Saturday, April 19, 2008
Just when any of you pregnant ladies out there thought it was OK to put your swollen ankles up and have a nice glass of red wine now and then, party-pooping Harry Burns, the chief medical officer for Scotland, has challenged the British government's advice that one or two small glasses per week is safe.
We all know knocking back large quantities of booze when pregnant is bloody stupid. The latest headlines, however, appear to be designed to load up mothers with even more guilt than they already carry on their burdened shoulders.
The story behind the headlines is this: Harry Burns believes alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is to blame for Scotland's escalating violent crime rate. Babies affected by FASD are only born to women who drink whilst pregnant, with one of the symptoms being a tendency towards violence in adulthood. Despite prior research pointing to the cause of FASD being heavy drinking (the official classification of binge drinking in the UK is when more than 7.5 units of alcohol are consumed in one session), Burns has called upon expectant mothers to completely abstain.
FASD is not a 'new' condition but as no studies have been undertaken in the UK it is not known just how prevalent it is. NHS Direct claims it to be around 6,000 births per year but the Royal College believes it to be 600 -studies from other countries show rates of around 3%.
The one thing we do know is that the majority of the medical profession, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, insist there is no danger in drinking one to two units once or twice a week throughout pregnancy. Bodies more reliant on public opinion tend to err on the side of caution, advising women not to touch a drop at any point during pregnancy; NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, recently backtracked on its previous guideline that small amounts of alcohol were safe, now saying alcohol should be banned for the first three months.
The real problem is not that expectant mothers are being fed conflicting information - mothers tend to be adults and therefore able to make decision for themselves. The issue is that this appears to be yet another stick to beat mothers with, another potential excuse make them scapegoats for society's ills.
We love to vilify the 'bad' mother, simply because blaming the mother takes the onus off everyone else. If we can convince ourselves that a mother's behaviour (especially if that behaviour is one of choice) is at the root of whatever has befallen her child - be it a spell in the slammer for committing a violent crime, teenage pregnancy, autism or even being a victim of murder -then we feel justified in pointing the collective finger. After all, there's nothing like a bit of finger pointing to make us all feel smug, safe and absolved, and there's nothing more frightening than admitting that we live in a screwed-up world.