While sitting at our booth during the Health Expo at Alberta Health on Wednesday I became acutely aware that people are uncomfortable talking about alcohol and pregnancy. It was very interesting watching people’s body language as they walked towards our booth, only to realize what we were promoting. For most individuals, their response was to avoid eye contact and to quickly walk past the booth without stopping. For the few brave souls that did stop, their typical response when trying to enter them into a conversation about the importance of talking about alcohol and pregnancy was to happily declare that they were, “too old to have to worry about that now”, or that they don’t drink so they have nothing to worry about.
If getting people in the Health Profession to talk about this important topic is so difficult, it is no wonder that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is so prevalent. We found it very difficult to get people to think outside of their selves and consider the importance of entering into the conversation with the clients and staff they work with, their friends, their family or even the person sitting at the table next to them in a pub.
Why is this topic such a taboo? Is it because as a society we become defensive if we feel people are trying to tell us what we can and what we cannot do? Is it because alcohol has become so important and so ingrained into our daily lives that we cannot consider giving it up totally – even for our babies sakes? Or is it because there are so many misconceptions and contradictions out there about drinking alcohol while pregnant?
Here are some recent Twitter conversations showing the current thinking out there:
Agency: Alcohol during pregnancy causes permanent brain damage!
Anna: Yes, excessive amounts can do. Approximately 7+ drinks per week needed to cause illness / defects
Agency: As an organization, we feel it advisable to err on the side of caution and abstain from consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Of course, there are no all-encompassing statements on this subject, but we feel every child deserves the best possible chance. Thanks for your feedback.
Babies First: Giving up alcohol during pregnancy is no easy feat but neither is living with a 100% preventable disability.
Anna: I think this is quite misleading. I understand wanting to be cautious, but most docs say moderation is ok in pregnancy.
FASD: alcohol use should be a part of your family planning conversations. Help spread the facts, alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix!
Anna: Alcoholism and pregnancy don’t mix. Excessive is bad. Mild-moderate is still not proven to be safe OR unsafe.
FASD: A drink is just not worth the risk. Why not give baby healthier start and avoid all alcohol.
Anna: There’s far more risk getting into a car and crashing. Should we stop driving too? In Europe, drinking in mild amounts is normal. In the 70s alcohol wasn’t known to be harmful in pregnancy. Guinness was prescribed! Why weren’t we all born with birth defects?
FASD: Very true! Many factors interplay with FASD; nutrition, genetics, metabolic rate… We know more now so why take risk?
Anna: Cultural differences must not be ignored. The French have just as many healthy kids as anywhere else, yet it’s normal to drink.
FASD: Wine, pregnancy and FASD: a paradox in France (and elsewhere). But FASD is everywhere, which is why we need to talk about it!
Anna: Almost always in cases of heavy drinking yes, I agree. But mama’s shouldn’t feel guilty for occasional drink with dinner.
FASD: You are right! Don’t want to shame or blame a woman, rather help to support healthy choices!
Anna: (Sites article) Read the research under heading “Should Pregnant Women Drink At All? The Research Evidence”
FASD: Conflicting FASD research and messages, no wonder why women are confused!
Prevention: Harms not always measurable or visible. How can we be sure we have really reached our full genetic potential? Alcohol is not just a beverage. Is it really OK to knowingly expose an unborn child to a teratogen & poison?
FASD: Many women unknowingly drink early on in pregnancy, normal social drinking overlapping. Planned pregnancies key!
Prevention: Absolutely! Great Fact sheet from Organisation of Teratology Information Specialists (sites work)
Anna: I agree there are conflicting messages. My OBGYN consultant + midwife both gave thumbs up for small / moderate amounts.
As you can see, we have a ways to go in getting the message out there that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be harmful to the baby and that we just do not know how much, if any is safe so why take the risk. Conflicting research and mixed messages only adds to the confusion. The key here is that at least the conversation has begun. As a society, we need to see the role we all play in keeping the conversation going – whether we are in our 20’s or our 60’s, man or woman. Let’s not turn a blind eye to this preventable disability and let’s get talking!