Saturday, April 19, 2008

Drinking in pregnancy breeds violence

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.


Shaheen Lakhan said...

It's not just Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder that is at risk in the babies/children, but also another related disorder called Sensory Integration Disorder or SID. We just published an article at the GNIF Brain Blogger on this subject with the latest research referenced. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

I hate to tell you, but in the US, its worse. Not only is it expectant that all pregnant women abstain from alcohal, but soft cheeses, fruit with peel, most seafood, bean sprouts, the list goes on and on. My first pregnancy I followed all the "rules" only to talk with a friend in Austria who hadn't heard any of them. The second time around, I played things a little looser and found how much society thinks they can dictate when a teenage server refused to bring me a salad with feta on it!

YLM said...

Thank you Shaheen, I'll take a look.

Hi Anon - Bean sprouts? That is a new one to me. Why? And as for the teenage server - how exceedingly annoying. Just goes to show how everyone now thinks they have a right to dicatate and 'own' a pregnancy.