Saturday, August 17

Mums-to-be warned of effects of alcohol on unborn babies

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Expectant mothers in Tameside and Glossop are being advised that drinking no alcohol at all in pregnancy is the only way of ensuring their unborn baby doesn’t suffer any ill effects from alcohol use.

Many people are not aware of the damage alcohol can have on an unborn baby and that drinking even small amounts during pregnancy can lead to life-long problems for the child. The advice from the Chief Medical Officer for England is that pregnant women, or those planning to become pregnant, avoid drinking any alcohol at all.

The warning to women, partners, family and friends comes as part of the Greater Manchester Drymester campaign, supported by Tameside Council and Tameside and Glossop Clinical Commissioning Group, to help prevent children being left with life-long health problems because of the effects alcohol can have during pregnancy.

Tameside is one of four areas taking part in the £1.6m pilot programme, where women, including expectant mothers and their partners will receive guidance and support at key points when planning to conceive, while pregnant, and after giving birth.

It is estimated that every year in Greater Manchester more than 1,000 children are born with health problems that could have been avoided if their mothers had not drunk alcohol while pregnant.

Unborn children who are exposed to alcohol can face a host of problems, collectively known as FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and FAS (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome). These include damage to their brain, heart, kidneys and bones, learning difficulties, facial features, and symptoms similar to autism and attention deficit disorder. Where caused by alcohol, all of these are preventable.

The Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership’s programme – which has been developed in close consultation with Tameside public health officers – will focus on prevention, by raising awareness of the avoidable damage caused by drinking while pregnant. The Tameside programme has two main aims: to engage a wide range of women at child-bearing age to raise awareness and to work with people most at risk. The programme will also increase diagnosis of the impacts and improve assistance for those affected.  

The programme will highlight Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and the impact it has on children. FASD is a range of lifelong disabilities which includes physical, mental, behavioural and learning impairments. It often causes difficulties with speech, language, memory, attention, planning and decision-making.

Many children with FASD are either misdiagnosed or do not receive a formal diagnosis, consequently they do not receive the right support. They are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with conditions including attention deficit disorder, autism and depression, and are at increased risk of having a disrupted education and coming into contact with children’s services and the criminal justice system.

The campaign calls on would-be parents and the people close to them to go alcohol-free throughout their pregnancy, and ‘make every trimester a #drymester’.

Cllr Eleanor Wills, Tameside Council Executive Member for Health, Social Care and Population Health, said: “The message is clear, no alcohol means no risk – there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink at any point during pregnancy. Being a mother of 3 myself I feel it is important that women – including women who may conceive in the future – and their partners, families and friends all get on board with this message to help prevent children suffering the long term ill effects.”

Anna Webster, adoptive parent of a child who was exposed to alcohol in the womb, has supported the campaign by appearing in a film, where she said:  “There is no safe amount to drink in pregnancy, no one really understands how toxic it is”

Jon Rouse, Chief Officer of Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said: “There is no safe time or no safe amount to drink during pregnancy. The message is simple but it isn’t getting through.

“As a consequence, too many of our children start life from a weakened position. Set back firstly by a birth condition caused by alcohol, and secondly by a system which in many cases lets them down. This situation is avoidable, and we’re determined that we get to grips with it.

“That’s why we’re investing in this significant new programme that will see Greater Manchester lead the way in preventing the impacts of drinking during pregnancy, increasing accurate diagnosis of the impacts and improving support for those affected.”

Anyone who would like more information about the programme in Tameside can contact Kate Benson kate.benson@tameside.gov.uk or Francine Cooper francine.cooper@tameside.gov.uk.

More information can be found at www.drymester.org.uk and by following the campaign on Twitter, @Drymester_GMHSC.

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