Provide a public health campaign to inform women of the dangers of drinking in pregnancy
Provide a public health campaign to inform women of the dangers of drinking in pregnancy
Women are not fully aware of the dangers of drinking alcohol in pregnancy or when planning a pregnancy
Currently, women are not fully aware of the dangers of drinking alcohol in pregnancy or when planning to become pregnant. It is the responsibility of Public Health England to inform all women of these dangers so that they can make an informed choice to avoid drinking when planning to become pregnant and when pregnant, as is in line with the the Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) guidance on alcohol in pregnancy, which was published in 2016 as follows:
Chief Medical Officer 2016
'If you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk'.
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Drinking in pregnancy causes Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) - (see NOFAS website for more information). FASD is an umbrella term describing a range of lifelong physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities, which a baby is born with if their mother drinks in pregnancy, but which are wholly preventable if women refrain from drinking in pregnancy or when planning a pregnancy. There is no safe limit. The more you drink the greater the risk.
Alcohol is a Teratogen
What women are not being told clearly enough is that Alcohol is a known teratogen (an agent or factor which causes malformation of an embryo). Another example of a teratogen was the infamous Thalidomide drug, used in the late 50's and early 60's which caused physical birth defects. However, the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure cause a wide range of both physical and mental health defects (organic brain damage) and also behavioural/social skills problems and learning disabilities.
Did you know that Alcohol is in fact 'the most commonly ingested teratogen in the world' and therefore the teratogen that women are most likely to be exposed to when planning a pregnancy and in pregnancy?
UK is decades behind other developed countries in warning about drinking in pregnancy
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome was first identifed in 1973 (Smith and Jones). The USA Surgeon General advised of the dangers of drinking in pregnancy in 1981. But is was not until 2016 that the Chief Medical Officer gave that same advice in the UK. In fact, both the USA and Canada are leading the field in their public health awareness campaigns for FASD and are decades ahead of the UK in their development of medical care pathways and provision of guidance and support for affected individuals across their lifetime. In the UK, although there has been an incredibly successful campaign by Public Health England advising of the dangers of smoking including in pregnancy, unfortunately the same priority has not been given to alcohol, when in fact, alcohol presents a far greater danger to the health of the foetus than smoking tobacco products. We must urgently redress this imbalance.
Advertising/Warning labels for alcohol products
Also, the warning labels on containers of alcohol are wholly inadequate (please check out the microscopic symbol) and compare that to size of the large warning labels and messages given on packets of cigarettes. Also, whilst cigarettes are hidden away in supermarket kiosks and behind closed doors and are not advertised, alcohol is displayed out front and promoted in full view and widely advertised. To further compound the problem, there is also a deliberate campaign to target women to drink alcohol via the promotion of pink alcoholic drinks and boutique style wine bars! This is unacceptable.
Although schools teach about the dangers of drugs/alcohol and cigarettes in PHSE topics, they currently do not include information about the dangers of drinking in pregnancy. There is a huge opportunity to advise young women of the dangers of drinking in pregnancy or (when planning to become pregnant - a very high proportion of pregnancies in the UK are unplanned) before they embark upon sexual relationships. There are approximately up to 5 children in each school classroom affected by the symptoms of FASD (usually mis diagnosed as ADHD, ASD, ODD, Conduct disorder etc). In fact, ADHD is the most commonly reported mental health diagnosis in individuals with FASD.
At a time when there is currently a huge focus on mental health issues in the UK, with the 'Heads Together Campaign' headed up by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and when the British Medical Association is advising that FASD is in fact the most common, non-genetic cause of learning disability in the UK. Why is there not a preventative Public Health Campaign running in tandem to advise of the dangers of drinking alcohol in pregnancy or when planning to become pregnant? In the absence of a public health campaign on the dangers of drinking in pregnancy or when planning to become pregnant, more and more children keep being born with FASD's and that is simply because women are not being made fully aware of the dangers of drinking in pregnancy.
Secondary disabilities associated with FASD
In the absence of a public health campaign advising of the dangers of drinking in pregnancy, it is surely no coincidence that appointments to see Community Paediatricians and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are completely log jammed with children waiting more than a year for appointments required for the primary FASD physical and behavioural disorders and also the secondary FASD mental health disorders (i.e. When FASD is not diagnosed or mis diagnosed and the child does not receive the right support both at home and in school for the primary disorders, then the secondary disabilities associated with FASD (Streissguth) arise which include mental health problems, inappropriate sexual behaviours, school disruptions, trouble with the law. incarceration.
Priority EHCP's required for Children in Care
Importantly, children in care are disproportionately affected by FASD. This is because the majority of their case histories include alcohol abuse. Children in care may not only have FASD but also suffer from the effects of trauma and abuse. This is why they need access to priority EHCP assessments from Local Authorities- who were fully aware of these children's 'complex and significant needs' when they established those needs as the basis for the legal reasons for the removal of these children from their birth homes. What the Local Authorities failed to do, was to put in place support measures to meet those needs AT THE SAME TIME and subsequently left adoptive parents/foster carers playing catch up for years, attempting to identify the medical problems in the first instance and then battling to get a diagnosis, and then battling further to gain access to the support measures necessary to meet their children's needs at home and in school.
Whilst It is positive news to hear about the most recent developments for FASD ie. NICE (National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) are developing a quality standard for FASD with an expected publication date of 31st July 2020 and Neuro developmental Disorder associated with pre natal alcohol exposure (ND - PAE) has been included in the updated DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statisical Manual APA), there is still no excuse to delay any further the requirement to give out pro active advice to women about the dangers of drinking in pregnancy or when planning to become pregnant? That would not make moral or economic sense, when a public health campaign would allow women to make informed choices to avoid alcohol and thereby significantly reduce the numbers of babies born with FASD in the meantime and thereby avoid the cost of that care across their lifetimes.
So, Public Health England we call on you to repeat the success of your campaign advising of the dangers of smoking tobacco products and show your respect to women and their unborn children by telling women clearly about the dangers of drinking alcohol in pregnancy or when planning to become pregnant - so that they can make informed choices about avoiding alcohol in pregnancy and when planning for a pregnancy! You can do this via TV commercials, posters, leaflets and other resources at your disposal.
As both an adoptive mother and a volunteer who coordinated support groups for parents/carers and children affected by FASD (across the UK), and therefore as someone who has heard, witnessed and experienced first hand the devastating impact of FASD upon children and their families, and the subsequent struggles of the parents/carers to gain support for their affected children: I urge you to support my campaign to request Public Health England to commence an urgent and long overdue public health campaign to advise women of the dangers of drinking alcohol in pregnancy and when planning to become pregnant, in order to significantly reduce the numbers of children born with FASD in the UK. After all, we know full well that no woman intentionally wants to harm her baby, so please provide a public health campaign so that women can make an informed choice to avoid alcohol when planning to become pregnant and in pregnancy.
Thank you for your understanding.