Protect your unborn kids from alcohol

That small bit of alcohol you drink before realising you are pregnant can have life-long harmful effects on your baby.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) doesn’t distinguish between class or race. It can happen to anyone.

“There is still the misconception that a woman should be an alcoholic or a very regular alcoholic consumer for her to have a child with fetal alcohol syndrome,” says Leana Olivier, executive director of the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR).

In South Africa this misconception is catastrophic, especially considering 78% of pregnancies are unplanned.

Often the woman doesn’t realise she is pregnant during the first few weeks or months and just keeps using alcohol as before­.

But it’s during this first trimester when a baby’s organs are formed.

Although many women stop drinking when they find out they are pregnant, it is too late, Olivier says. Unintentionally they already harmed their child.

Olivier says it’s not true that a woman can drink a glass of wine or two during pregnancy or start using alcohol again after the first trimester.

These misconceptions may contribute to the fact that South Africa has the world’s highest appearance of FAS, a staggering 14 times more than in other countries. FAS is between 30 and 50 times more common than Down Syndrome.

The answer and reasons for the FAS problem are complex. South Africa’s drinking culture is a big enemy because many drinkers do not know how to relax without drinking, Olivier says.

In addition, South Africans tend to binge drink, which is when a person drinks five or more drinks within a period of two to three hours.

Women’s misconceptions about alcohol use during the first few weeks of pregnancy mean many are blind to the fact that their child has one of the spectra of fetal alcohol disorders (of which FAS is only one). Many mistakenly believe a person with FAS is immediately identifiable, when in fact about 70% of people with FAS don’t have ‘typical’ features.

In fact, FAS is hidden in other diagnoses such as attention deficiency disorders.

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