Pregnant women should make their own informed choices – but they need more support, understanding, information and education on this issue
Go anywhere in the world and tell people you’re Irish and they’ll fondly say things like “Aah Mrs Brown” – however, following last week’s staggering revelations that suggest nearly 80 per cent of Irish women expose their unborn babies to alcohol with around 45 per cent actually binge drinking during the first trimester, I imagine the next time I manage to go abroad and introduce myself as being a proud Irish mammy, the thorny subject of consuming alcohol while pregnant may raise its ugly head.
Now this could be due to a recent study, led by Dr Linda O’Keefe of Cambridge University and published in medical journal BMJ Open, which revealed that Irish mothers-to-be are more likely to drink than their counterparts in the neighbouring UK or far-flung Australia and New Zealand. In fact readers, our little country actually emerged with the highest rates of drinking at 90 per cent prior to getting pregnant and 82 per cent while actually being pregnant.
Now I don’t know about you, but as someone who has twice given birth, I find these revelations worrying and I have to ask myself why this is happening. You see, while there are both medical and government guidelines designed to advise and educate women regarding the dangers of consuming alcohol during pregnancy, I wonder if they’re clear and concise enough to get the message across? I also wonder if different doctors are taking a somewhat more realistic and personal approach with their individual patients.
You see, a few weeks ago TV presenter Maia Dunphy, whom I would regard as an intelligent mother-to-be, someone who is in the public domain, someone that women would look up to and someone who is excitingly expecting her first child with her hubby, comedian Johnny Vegas, got rather annoyed when people made comments regarding her taking an alcoholic drink during pregnancy, saying “I’m not taking heroin, I’m having one drink,” adding, “I’m not drinking drinking, but I’m probably having one or two drinks a week, like a glass of wine with Sunday lunch or a beer.” Hmm. Interesting.
Now this comment took me by surprise because it came from a lady with brains to burn and who presented a documentary on RTE called ‘Merlot and Me,’ where she focused on her own relationship with alcohol and while my first thought was – why risk it love – my second was well now, Maia is not the type of woman to put her child at risk and I’m sure she’s sensibly consulted with her obstetrician. Maia is a responsible woman, who, like me, researches and analyses all of the facts before making a decision.
Now, while I believe all mothers want to do what is right for their child, please don’t think I’m on an awareness crusade here. That’s Leo Varadkar’s job as Minister for Health and maybe he (and his Department) needs to up their game when it comes to educating women, because it seems they’re getting mixed messages; but, having done my own research (while pregnant), on the worrying effects of alcohol on an unborn, which can include heart defects, poor muscle tone and problems with movements and balance, learning difficulties, problems with thinking and speech, etc., and, despite my doctor at the time saying an odd glass of wine or beer was ok, I decided that if, as an expectant mother I couldn’t, for the sake of my precious unborn’s health, go on the dry and stick to sparkling water or fruit juice for the nine months, then it was utter thoughtlessness on my part.
But I stress that was me and I abstained because, having also read further literature on the subject, I concluded that perhaps those few beers or glasses of wine may expose my babies to Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) because that aul gargle was going to travel down through my bloodstream and straight into my unborn babies’ tissues and organs, breaking down slowly in their fragile bodies, making their blood alcohol level increase, possibly rendering them harm and leading to lifelong, mild to severe damage. As I said, it was just a ‘risk’ but one I personally wasn’t prepared to take.
Now I’m not campaigning for sainthood here because I actually do have a dirty little secret and it’s this…now that my child-bearing years are behind me I adore nothing more than winding down with a few drinks; I looovvvee my vodka, I looovvee my Jack Daniels, and, at this stage of my life, I’d imagine my official blood group is probably AB Smirnoff, but I have to stress that during both pregnancies, and even in the six months leading up to daughter No 2’s conception, not a drop of the hard stuff passed my lips. Swear to God! Oh, ok, I did have the odd swig out of the gripe water bottle. I didn’t say I was Mother Teresa!
However, while I believe tackling the consumption of alcohol in pregnancy is critical, I most certainly do not agree with some scaremongers who insist that drinking whilst pregnant should be declared a crime; nor do I believe humiliating, annoying or berating pregnant women is the way to go either. And, for the record I don’t support those who want to control the minimum price of a bottle of wine saying it’s the only way to achieve zero tolerance in pregnancy.
Instead I would strongly advocate for more support, understanding, information and education for parents-to-be, because let’s be honest, pregnant women should be afforded the right to make their own informed choices but they can only do this if they’re given all of the facts. I mean, c’mon, no mother wants to look at her precious new born infant knowing their future has been severely damaged by what was possibly her own irresponsible behaviour; now does she?