'Worrying' alcohol use in pregnancies


PREGNANT IRISH and British women drink more heavily than women in other EU states, an alcohol and pregnancy conference at the European Parliament in Brussels heard yesterday.

Dr Siobhán Barry, visiting consultant psychiatrist at the Coombe hospital, told the conference there was “a marked difference” between expectant Irish and UK mothers and the rest of the EU and non-EU when it came to reported alcohol consumption of more than six units per week.

She said research conducted at the Coombe found that of 43,818 pregnant Irish women surveyed between July 1999 and March 2005, 7.5 per cent said they drank six to nine units per week. This compared with 6.9 per cent of UK mothers and 2.9 per cent of pregnant women in the rest of the EU.

“Irish and UK-born mothers had a lower likelihood of reporting themselves to be non-drinkers in pregnancy,” she said. Dr Barry described as “desperately worrying” the fact that six out of 10 Irish women drank during pregnancy. The conference was organised to mark Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Day yesterday. Babies exposed to alcohol in the womb can suffer a range of physical, mental, behavioural and developmental disorders, collectively known as FASD.

Alcohol Action Ireland, which was involved in the conference, urged the Government to act on overdue legislation and put information and warning labels on alcohol. Clíona Murphy of the group said the Government should have introduced legislation last year to ensure all packaged alcohol carried a warning advising that drinking during pregnancy posed a risk to the health of the mother and child.

“Women have the right to make informed choices about their health, and putting information warning labels on alcohol is one way of increasing awareness,” Ms Murphy said.

She said labels should also carry the number of units in a drink, and a list of ingredients.

Dr Barry said there was little awareness in Ireland of FASD, unlike in France, the US and Scandinavia, where labelling was part of public health efforts to raise awareness of the issue.