Alcohol in pregnancy causes common disability: FASD

pregnant woman with wine and cigarette

The AMA, Australian FASD Network, NOFASD Australia, and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education are teaming up to raise awareness about the health dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

FASD refers to a range of disabilities (learning, behavioural, and developmental) that result from alcohol exposure during pregnancy.

Alcohol consumed during pregnancy crosses the placenta and can cause complications of pregnancy and damage to the developing fetus, including FASD. The risks are greatest with high, frequent alcohol consumption during the first trimester of pregnancy.

AMA President, Professor Brian Owler, says that FASD is the most common preventable cause of non-genetic developmental disability in Australia.

“FASD is a devastating condition, yet it is entirely preventable,” Prof Owler says.

“As doctors at the front line of health care, AMA members have vivid personal experiences of the harms caused by alcohol in the community, including FASD.

“The key to reducing alcohol-related harms is a change in the Australian drinking culture, with a new focus on promoting and encouraging more responsible alcohol consumption.

“This will lead to reduced harms to individual drinkers and, importantly, reduced harms to other people, including unborn children.

“Alcohol consumption during pregnancy does not occur in isolation. FASD is one of a number of many harms attributable to alcohol in our community.

“Any attempts to tackle FASD must occur within a coordinated, comprehensive whole-of-government approach to reducing harmful drinking across the population.”

Prof Owler says that it is vitally important that all health professionals are trained and supported to ask women about their alcohol consumption.

“The AMA and other health groups are strong supporters of campaigns to equip health professionals with information and resources to educate patients about alcohol and pregnancy,” Prof Owler says.

“Every time a health professional sees a woman patient, there is potential to prevent a new case of FASD and promote education and awareness of the harms of alcohol during pregnancy.”

Government funding exists for the Commonwealth Action Plan to reduce the impact of FASD through until 2017.


About FASD

  • The current Australian guidelines (NHMRC) recommend that adults limit themselves to two standard alcoholic drinks per day.
  • For women planning to become pregnant, or who are already pregnant, the safest option is to avoid alcohol altogether.
  • Many Australian women continue to consume alcohol during their pregnancy. Recent research found that 40% of Australian women drink at least some alcohol during their pregnancy.
  • Alcohol consumption during pregnancy may be attributable to a number of factors, including the possibility that some women are unaware that they are pregnant (and therefore are not avoiding alcohol).

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