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3 March 2015, 06:10
A Newcastle mum has backed calls for consistent Government guidelines urging women to avoid drinking alcohol altogether when pregnant.
Linda Venus, who has a daughter with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), is supporting calls from campaigners for clearer advice on how much alcohol women can drink when pregnant.
Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, is calling on Government to advise women that no alcohol from conception to birth is the safest option.
FASD, which affects 1 in 100 babies each year, is a series of preventable birth defects, both mental and physical, caused by drinking alcohol at any time during pregnancy. These defects of the brain and the body exist only because of prenatal exposure to alcohol.
Linda, from Newcastle, has experienced FASD first-hand as her seven-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, was diagnosed with the condition last year.
The mum-of-four and her husband Mick, adopted Kaitlyn when she was eight-months-old knowing that her biological mother had struggled with drink and drug problems during her pregnancy.
Alarms bells were ringing over Kaitlyn's physical and behavioral characteristics from an early age but it took years of tests and misdiagnosis before her condition was identified.
Linda, 50, said:
"We knew from an early age that something wasn't quite right. Kaitlyn's first carer actually raised concerns over FASD when she was just a few months old but it took years before it was finally confirmed.
She underwent tests for cystic fibrosis, was put on numerous medications for gastric problems, and when she was four doctors said it was ADHD.
Kaitlyn ticked all the boxes for FASD; not sleeping, not developing, not growing properly. She also had very slight facial issues, which you can't really notice anymore, and I kept saying to the doctors that it might be FASD.
Kaitlyn still struggles with things like memory loss and she has no sense of endangerment but now that she has been diagnosed it will make things easier in terms of getting her the right support that she needs to flourish. She is already a prize-winning horse rider with the Riding for the Disabled Association Morpeth team and she's due to start at a specialist school soon so I know that will really help in her development."
Linda, who also has three grown up children, didn't drink throughout any of her pregnancies but she's aware of the confusing messages about alcohol given to pregnant women.
"In my experience as a parent of a child with FASD, there appears to be a lack of awareness of the condition. I meet so many people who have no idea what it is and I wasn't even fully aware of FASD until Kaitlyn came into my life.
There needs to be clearer guidelines advising women to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy. FASD is completely preventable so why risk it by drinking?"
Women are currently faced with inconsistent advice from healthcare bodies on what level of alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy. A review of Government guidance on drinking alcohol when pregnant is currently underway by the Chief Medical Officer.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises women who are pregnant to avoid alcohol in the first three months in particular, because of the increased risk of miscarriage. However, researchers don't know how much alcohol is safe to drink when pregnant. They do know that the risk of damage to your unborn baby increases the more you drink and that binge drinking is especially harmful.
Mary Edwards, Programme Manager Alcohol Treatment at Balance, said:
"FASD is the most common, non-genetic cause of learning disability in the western world . It's a lifelong disability with no cure but it is preventable.
It's vitally important that the on-going mixed messages from various health bodies are aligned. The North East's 12 Directors of Public Health have already backed calls for a consistent message that the safest option for expectant mothers is no alcohol from conception to birth and now it's time for the Government to do the same."
As in Kaitlyn's case, FASD often goes undiagnosed, or is misdiagnosed, for example as autism or ADHD, and this can lead to secondary disabilities.
No two children with FASD are exactly alike, either behaviourally or physically. However, some of the characteristics may include attention problems or hyperactivity, academic problems, language deficits, behavioural and/or social challenges, sensory impairments, poor sense of self, poor memory, poor regulation of emotion and difficulty with time concepts.
Some children also have facial abnormalities such as a thin upper lip, an upturned nose and smaller than normal eye openings.