Pregnant women were today warned not to drink alcohol by the State’s top medic.
A report from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) found there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Dr James Kiely said alcohol consumption by pregnant women in Ireland poses a risk to unborn babies, adding it is in the child’s best interest for a pregnant woman not to drink alcohol during pregnancy.
The Department of Health and Children is now considering mandatory labelling for alcohol containers warning about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.
“Given the harmful drinking patterns in Ireland and the propensity to binge drink, there is a substantial risk of neurological damage to the foetus resulting in Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD),” said Dr Keily.
“Alcohol offers no benefits to pregnancy outcomes.
“Therefore, it is in the child’s best interest for a pregnant woman not to drink alcohol during pregnancy.”
The warning comes after a study found one in 10 women reported drinking more than six units of alcohol per week in pregnancy.
Children suffering from FASD can show signs of behavioural, intellectual and physical difficulties including learning difficulties, poor language skills, poor memory skills and attention problems.
The advice is issued to coincide with the FASD awareness day, which takes place on September 9.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) is due to begin work on updating and disseminating information materials for use by the general public and medical professionals.
They will include the CMO’s advice that women should avoid alcohol before and during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
The HSE will also meet with relevant stakeholders with regard to developing and implementing education initiatives for health professionals on this issue and on the proposal to introduce health warning labels.
The latest caution follows a review of a seven year study – from 1988 to 2005 - entitled The Coombe Women’s Hospital Study of Alcohol, Smoking and Illicit Drug Use.
Launched in March this year, it found one in 10 women reported drinking more than six units of alcohol per week in pregnancy and that this pattern was more pronounced in younger women.
Health Minister Mary Harney asked Dr Keily to consider the data, particularly with respect to the finding that most pregnant women drink alcohol.
The CMO also reviewed the available international evidence including that from the Surgeon General in the United States and more recently from the Department of Health in the UK.
Pat the Cope Gallagher, Minister for Health Promotion and Food Safety, endorsed the CMO’s advise.
“It is essential that women are provided with all the relevant information for a safe and successful pregnancy,” he said.
“Therefore, women need to be aware of the risk associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
“As the evidence does not specify a safe level of alcohol consumption, the best advice to women is not to consume alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive.”