One in Three Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women Drink Alcohol in Australia

One in Three Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women Drink Alcohol in Australia

Despite widespread media and educational efforts to spread awareness of the dangers of alcohol consumption for expectant and breastfeeding mothers, a recent survey in Australia reveals that one-third of new mothers are still drinking alcohol.

In an annually commissioned survey conducted by Australia’s Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation (AER), 1,014 participants were polled on their attitudes regarding alcohol consumption and behaviors. Approximately one of out every three women surveyed (30%) admitted to drinking alcoholic beverages while pregnant or breastfeeding. Most surprisingly, these women still choose to engage in alcohol consumption even though 90% of the survey’s participants agree that drinking while pregnant should be avoided, and 87% agree that drinking should be avoided while breastfeeding.

In response to this new data, Australian health experts are prompting the renewal of health warning labels on the country’s alcoholic beverages. By integrating more informative health advisory statements on all alcohol products, health experts are hoping that this alarming statistic of drinking mothers can be reduced. Prenatal alcohol exposure has the potential to cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) which create irreversible mental, physical, and developmental damage to the baby. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and FASD can cause such alcohol-related birth defects as facial deformities, growth deficiencies, lung, heart, and kidney abnormalities, central nervous system impairment, impaired cognitive development, and behavioral disorders. All of these effects are permanent, yet are completely preventable if the woman abstains from alcohol while pregnant. According to AER’s survey, 8% of Australians still find it acceptable to drink in moderation during pregnancy, and 9% believe it is acceptable to drink while breastfeeding. Even though alcohol products are exceptionally hazardous to one’s health, their product information still remains drastically less informative than such average food products as a carton of milk. AER believes that educating the public on the dangers of alcohol consumption should be a priority health concern for Australia.

In the U.S., the Surgeon General advises that pregnant women or women who may become pregnant should completely abstain from alcohol consumption due to the severe potential risks to the fetus. According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS), alcohol consumption remains the leading cause of mental retardation and birth defects in the U.S., where 50% of births are unplanned. The U.S. is one of 43 countries worldwide that mandate health warning labels on alcohol products, and one of 14 countries that require a product statement regarding the dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Even though knowledge of alcohol’s health risks are publicly well known, the inclusion of warning labels directly on alcohol products will provide this crucial information to potential consumers at that critical moment of decision-making. Currently in Australia, alcohol manufacturers are not required to include a health advisory statement on alcohol’s risk of disease or illness on their products, nor are they mandated to list their products’ ingredients. Health officials and the community at large in Australia would prefer to have health warning labels required for such a hazardous product as alcohol, and some are supporting legislation in government to implement mandatory product regulation.

There currently is no national data on the prevalence of FASD in Australia, which causes health experts to believe that the issue has been under-addressed to the general public as well as under-researched. According to AER, FASD is most widespread among undereducated communities, lower-socioeconomic regions, and households that have a lack of health resources. Integrating a health warning label to alcohol products would provide these targeted populations with much needed information to help them make better decisions regarding their families’ health and wellbeing. The rate of FASD costs national economies, like that of the U.S., billions of dollars each year in direct and indirect expenses. The requirement of a health warning label on alcohol products costs virtually nothing extra to manufacture, and the result of healthier families pays itself off. 

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