No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy – this was the message from the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR) at an awareness event, held at Solomon Tshuku hall in Site C, to observe the International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Day on Friday September 9.
Chief executive officer of FARR, Leana Olivier described FASD as a condition which occurs in a children whose mother drank alcohol during their pregnancy.
She said a woman’s body passes alcohol through the blood stream to her unborn baby via the umbilical cord, causing the foetus to develop Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).
Ms Olivier stressed that there was no known safe amount of alcohol which pregnant women could consume without raising the risk of hurting their unborn babies.
Ms Oliver said FASD is a broad spectrum of abnormal signs and symptoms in children due to mothers drinking when they were pregnant.
She described FAS as a mental disability and the most severe of the FASD. The damage to the unborn child is permanent and cannot be reversed.
Ms Olivier said they have completed 11 studies in four provinces, recording the highest reported FAS rates in the world.
In some areas, she said the prevalence rate was as high as 25 percent of children. The Department of Health estimates the average FAS prevalence in South Africa at 6 percent.
She said currently the organisation runs research, awareness and prevention projects in the Western Cape, Northern and Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
“The brain is the most vulnerable organ. There are still many myths around FASD. Some people still believe for instance that women must be an alcoholic to give birth to a child with FASD. The truth is no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy,” she said.
Apart from damage to the eyes, ears and the heart, harm to unborn babies may also include brain damage, which results in lifelong problems such as learning disabilities, interpersonal relationship problems, she said.
Ms Olivier said this epidemic is 100% preventable and she urged women not to drink alcohol when they are pregnant.
She said they should rather be safe than sorry. She said the reality is that they have only done the research in four provinces to date and therefore did not know the extent of the problem in the other provinces.
Asked why the day was commemorated on September 9, she said the nine symbolises the number of months a woman is pregnant before she gives birth to a child.
However, Ms Olivier said there is still much that needs to be done to educate women about the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant.
Sinesipho Bullet, 25, of Khayelitsha, shared her story and urged women, particularly the youth, not to drink while pregnant. She said she drank alcohol when she was pregnant in 2014 with her first child and never thought for once that she was putting the life of her unborn baby in danger.
This was even though her parents and nurses had warned her not to drink. She only stopped drinking for one month when she was six months into her pregnancy.
However, from seven months on, she continued to drink until she gave birth.
“I gave birth last year in August and the baby is fine. But I don’t know for sure that the child won’t have problems at a later stage. I drank because of peer pressure. Lots of people think it is an illusion that drinking while pregnant will damage your unborn baby,” she said.
Ms Bullet appealed to boyfriends to support their girlfriends when they were pregnant and she urged clinics to embark on vigorous campaigns in educating people about FAS.
Addiction councillor and facilitator at NPO Bounce Back, Sheá Damonze, said before the event, they hosted a two-day workshop in an effort to educate mothers about the dangers of drinking while pregnant.
He said they discovered that a lot of young mothers were the ones drinking and in most cases it was because they were not equipped with the necessary information. “We have discovered that out of 10 pregnant women, seven of them were drinking during their pregnancy. FAS diseases has not been given much attention like other illnesses such as HIV/ Aids or TB,” he said.