DESPITE awareness of our national binge drinking culture, no data has been collected in this country on the number of children adversely affected by alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Ireland, the support group for those affected by the syndrome, has said there is a reluctance among doctors to link maternal drinking with behavioural and cognitive problems later in life.
The Department of Health has confirmed, in a response to a Dáil parliamentary question, that they have no data collated on the extent of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.
According to latest research from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the syndrome occurs in three-to-six out of every 1,000 births in the United States.
In Germany, approximately 2,200 children are born each year with FAS, while a further 10,000-15,000 suffer from intellectual difficulties and behaviour problems linked to drinking during pregnancy.
Fine Gael’s David Stanton said the lack of research was worrying as the US figures suggested there could be 177 to 354 Irish babies born each year with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.
“Even moderate drinking can have effects,” he said.
“Last week, Minister Harney agreed symptoms can range from mild attention deficit problems to lifelong problems such as neurological, cognitive and behavioural problems, growth retardation and developmental delay. I am concerned about this when one, every day, sees a rise in these issues in schools. There is possibly a link. We must advise and inform people much more.”
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Ireland co-ordinator Michele Savage said the syndrome is insufficiently recognised here even though research suggests that twice as many Irish women than American women drink in pregnancy.
“The physical, psychological and psychiatric effects of drinking are just not being recognised here. If a child had a broken leg, you would want them to have crutches. Similarly, a child whose development has been hampered by drinking during pregnancy needs particular help.”
Responding to questions posed by Mr Stanton, the department said it was working to address the lack of information.
“The promotion of healthy behaviour in relation to alcohol intake is a national priority not least among young women who are planning or embarking upon pregnancy. In order to create greater awareness in relation to the risks associated with alcohol consumption, we now advise women to avoid alcohol in pregnancy. The department is also devising legislation to provide for mandatory labelling of alcohol containers advising of the risk of consuming alcohol during pregnancy,” a spokesman said.
It was also confirmed the HSE is developing proposals for a research project in a major maternity hospital to evaluate the prevalence of alcohol exposure in pregnancy, the patterns of drinking and the factors that influence whether or not a woman drinks alcohol before conception and during each trimester of pregnancy.
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