"No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy" is the theme of this year's International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day - and according to data published by The National Center for Biotechnology Information in the US, this includes non-alcoholic drinks.
The paper references a study conducted by Motherisk in which 45 non-alcoholic beverages were sampled and analysed.
Among the 45 brands tested, 13 raised red flags for pregnant women, the study findings showing that in some cases, the information presented on labels weren't always accurate.
"In particular, certain brands claiming to have alcohol concentrations of 0.0% had levels of up to 1.8%," warned the researchers, who acknowledge that while much more needs to be done by way of larger clinical trials, the potential risks of consuming non-alcoholic beverages during pregnancy far outweigh the unknowns.
Social drinkers believing non-alcoholic beverages to be a safer option during pregnancy are advised to be particularly cautious since these women are more likely to consume more than one drink at a time.
When talking breastfeeding, the study authors advise that the same hard and fast rule may not apply, however, the risk factor remains "owing to the lack of safety information and the variation in alcohol concentrations in non-alcoholic beverages."
Also see: OPINION: Moms and wine, and how we've normalised the two going hand in hand
0.3% too much - consume enough non-alcoholic beverages, and you could be declared legally drunk
A ruling this past July by SA's Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) provides further proof of the need for pregnant women to be wary of non-alcoholic drinks.
Sharing its findings in an online statement, the Directorate communicated its "discomfort with the advertising of products which contain a small amount of alcohol as 'no alcohol' or '0%' alcohol."
It found that while brands labelling products containing less than 0.3% alcohol as "non-alcoholic" are in line with South African legislation, a legally drunk reading could be confirmed depending on the volume consumed.
"At not more than 0.3% alcohol /volume... one could deduce that a consumer would need to drink approximately twenty 330ml [non-alcoholic beverages] within an hour to reach the legal alcohol limit."
And while it's unlikely that a pregnant woman would drink 20 drinks in an hour, even a few are enough to put a baby at risk.
In light of these findings, the International FASD Day's slogan seems even more relevant.
Highest FASD rate in the world
South Africa is home to the highest prevalence of FASD in the world, yet the preventable condition remains one of the most under-diagnosed disorders in the country.
It causes permanent defects resulting in a range of physical, mental and behavioural disorders.
The incidence of FASD in South Africa is currently 14 times higher than the global FASD prevalence rate - read more about the stats in our recently published: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is more prevalent, and more serious, than you think
CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR), Dr Leana Olivier advises that misperception plays a huge role in these alarming stats.
"A woman does not need to be a heavy drinker or alcoholic to have a child with FASD, even light to moderate drinking has the potential to cause permanent damage to the unborn baby," she shared in an interview with Parent24.
In 2015, FARR interviewed a number of mothers whose children had been diagnosed with the condition, finding that along with complex socio-economic issues like domestic violence, unemployment, poor education, and personal hardships, simpler factors like peer pressure and even boredom also play a role in our high prevalence rate.
A Parent24 survey posing the question 'Did you/do you drink non-alcoholic drinks when pregnant/breastfeeding?' is also telling.
While 63% said no, 18% said they choose non-alcoholic options so they "don't feel left out," and sadly, 20% admitted to drinking alcohol.
A 100% alcohol-free pregnancy
International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day is celebrated on the 9th day of the 9th month each year, a metaphorical nod to the ideal: a 100% alcohol-free pregnancy.
Considering the damaging impact alcohol has on the unborn fetus, 9 months without alcohol in exchange for a healthy baby seems more than fair, doesn't it?
To learn more about how you can join FARR on International FASD Day visit www.farrsa.org.za.
Stay tuned for more on FASD topics, as we'll be sharing personal and inspiring stories over the coming weeks.
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