Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder – it can only take one drink


It can only take one or two drinks to damage an unborn baby’s brain.

That’s the message CAPS Hauraki wants to get across to young women in an effort to reduce the high rates of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder [FASD] in children.

CAPS Hauraki hosted Alcohol Healthwatch health promotion advisor Christine Rogan in Thames on November 22 to talk about FASD.

CAPS Hauraki service manager Jenny Curry said it didn’t take much alcohol to damage a baby’s brain.

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“You can’t afford to take the risk, you’re basically poisoning the foetus, ethyl alcohol is a poison – it can be one or two drinks,” she said.

“We need to raise awareness of it so that when people encounter it, they know how to deal with it. If you’re aware, you tell your friend when you’re out at the pub, ‘don’t drink if you’re pregnant or if you’re thinking about getting pregnant’.”

The Ministry of Health estimates more than 50 per cent of New Zealand pregnancies are exposed to alcohol, which is 30,000 babies. FASD is a medical disorder with neuro-behavioural symptoms.

Those with FASD have learning and memory problems, boundary problems, empathy deficit, and excessive demand for attention, extreme emotional responses, poor understanding of social cues and clinically significant inappropriate interactions.

Rogan said children with FASD had a hidden brain injury.

“It’s a neuro-developmental disorder or disability, but it’s hidden, and so often what we see in our schools, social services and our communities generally is a hidden disability,” she said.

“All we see is behaviour, and if you’re just responding to behaviour, you think it’s just naughtiness, in actual fact it’s in the brain, it’s the way in which the brain has been damaged by alcohol.

“So it’s a very hidden thing to try and prevent and to address.”

The aim of the seminar was to teach communities how to be aware of FASD, how to reach families who might be affected and to distribute information, she said.

“They need help and support. It’s a very difficult thing to manage if you don’t know what it is that you’re dealing with,” she said.

“Understanding foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is really important in order to address it properly and appropriately, and that takes a whole community.”

Rogan said the authority was concerned about heavy drinking among young women.

“Heavy drinking is very normalised, and that is leading our young women to drink more heavily,” she said.

“We have a concerning calamity happening there because that’s at peak fertility years as well.”

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