Gill Boden reports on the FASD information for midwives
This 26-minute film has just been released by NOFAS-UK, the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK. It examines the risks of drinking alcohol in pregnancy and follows a birth mother with a child with suspected fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a midwife and a pregnant woman who is drinking low levels of alcohol. The focus of the film is the message that the only safe advice is to abstain from alcohol at all stages in pregnancy.
The three women and, through them, the viewers are shown some quite shocking footage of children with deformed features and very challenging behaviours, all of whom have been removed from their presumably alcoholic mothers and fostered. There is no information on the levels of alcohol during pregnancy that would result in such damage, but it is very clearly stated that the standard advice, that 'one or two units once or twice a week' should cause no harm, is based on no evidence at all. The only evidence offered of the effect of alcohol in pregnancy is ultrasound scanning showing the foetus reacting to, presumably low, levels of alcohol in the blood of the mother, but it was explained that these visible reactions can't be interpreted.
There is an irony here in that the logical conclusion that 'FASD is a direct result of prenatal alcohol exposure and can be completely eliminated if pregnant women do not drink alcohol' could equally well be applied to diagnostic ultrasound. The toxic effects of ultrasound exposure, for example low birth weight, which are direct effects of high levels of ultrasound, could be completely eliminated if pregnant women did not submit themselves to routine screening.
All three women were convinced that women need more information about the effects of alcohol and that a policy of advising no drinking is best. While this may be the case, what is not explored in the film is the repercussions of such a policy in a society where social drinking by women is prevalent and many women do not plan their pregnancies, or do not know immediately when they conceive. It is also the case that European societies have relied on fermentation to keep liquids free from bacteria for thousands of years and women and children have regularly consumed weak beer for probably centuries.
I feel that what is missing is a consideration firstly of how drinking habits and strength of drinks have changed, and secondly what support women who are heavy drinkers need and get. Finally, while the language of the film is about education, what is not made explicit is the kind of sanctions that society might impose on women who for whatever reason, don't or can't take the advice. It was stated that 30 children are taken into care in the UK every day and the largest single group within this is children suffering from FASD. We know that in the US women are being imprisoned for drinking 'too much' while pregnant. I believe we need far more research into the effects of low and moderate levels of alcohol in pregnancy so that we know what will damage babies. We need to challenge the punitive treatment of pregnant women: women whose behaviour may damage themselves and their babies need help and support, not punishment.
To view the film online, go to www.nofas-uk.org section 'Alcohol in pregnancy - training for midwives'. There is also a fact sheet for parents, carers and professionals containing information on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
AIMS supports all maternity service users to navigate the system as it exists, and campaigns for a system which truly meets the needs of all.
The AIMS Journal spearheads discussions about change and development in the maternity services. From the beginning of 2018, the journal has been published online and is freely available to anyone with an interest in pregnancy and birth issues. Membership of AIMS continues to support and fund our ability to create the online journal, as well as supporting our other work, including campaigning and our Helpline. To contact the editors, please email: email@example.com
AIMS Journal, 2021, Vol 33, No 3 To read or download this Journal in a magazine format on ISSUU, please click here Covid-19: We have continued to be involved in the But N…Read more
AIMS Journal, 2021, Vol 33, No 3 To read or download this Journal in a magazine format on ISSUU, please click here By the AIMS Campaigns Team Maternity Voices Partnership…Read more
AIMS Journal, 2021, Vol 33, No 3 To read or download this Journal in a magazine format on ISSUU, please click here by the AIMS Campaigns Team The prospect of sustaining p…Read more
POSTPONED FROM JUNE 2020 Making a difference past and future The purpose of the day is to celebrate what Birth Activists in general and AIMS in particular have achieved,…Read more
AIMS has prepared comments on the draft NICE Guideline for Inducing Labour You can read our comments here The details of the consultation on the draft guidelines can be f…Read more
As part of its non-inquiry work, the Health and Social Care Select Committee have established a panel to conduct an evaluation of the Government's commitments in the area…Read more
AIMS and our partners in the But Not Maternity Alliance and National Maternity Voices organised a webinar for MVP/MSLC representatives. The purpose was to raise awareness…Read more