Pregnancy and alcohol do not mix

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September 9 is International Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Awareness Day, ER24 urges pregnant women to abstain from drinking alcohol. Explaining the syndrome, Willem Stassen, ER24 Critical Care Paramedic, said that Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation.

“It is a clinical syndrome that occurs when the unborn baby is exposed to alcohol through maternal alcohol consumption. This syndrome is characterised by distinct facial abnormalities and other defects in the heart, muscles, kidneys and eyes. One study reports that the incidence of FAS in some South African populations may be as high as 12.2%. Unfortunately, the damage done in FAS is permanent and cannot be undone,” he said.

The South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) says that Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is 100% preventable. The mother and baby are connected by the placenta and the umbilical cord. This means that the baby takes in almost everything that the mother consumes. Substances can build up in the baby’s system and can cause permanent damage.

Stassen said that there is no safe level or period of alcohol intake during pregnancy as this is affected by the alcohol clearance rates, foetal sensitivity to alcohol, drinking patterns of the mother-to-be as well as genetics. “For this reason, all international guidelines recommend that pregnant women completely abstain from all alcoholic beverages during the entire duration of pregnancy. Pregnant women should always attend prenatal check-ups at a registered healthcare provider,” he said.

SANCA says that there are at least 500 000 South African’s suffering from FASD. South Africa with an incidence of 8-12% has the highest rate of FAS globally – De Aar having the highest prevalence of 12% in the country.

Should you require any assistance with alcohol abuse, contact Alcoholics Anonymous on 0861 HELP AA (435-722). For more information on FAS, visit http://www.fasfacts.org.za

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