Fears of baby harm amid drinking spike

Experts fear that more drinking during the coronavirus pandemic will lead to alcohol harm in babies.
Experts fear that more drinking during the coronavirus pandemic will lead to alcohol harm in babies.

Women are being urged to curb their drinking over fears it could lead to a spike in alcohol harm in babies conceived during the coronavirus pandemic.

A survey conducted by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education recently found Australians were drinking 70 per cent more during isolation.

University of Sydney's Professor Elizabeth Elliott said this, coupled with the increased time partners were spending together, meant there was an increased risk of pregnancy and alcohol harm.

Prof Elliott said it was a myth that only high rates of drinking could cause problems, such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder.

Prenatal exposure to alcohol can case neurodevelopmental issues in children that can affect their ability to think, learn, focus their attention and control their behaviour and emotions.

"You can't predict risk in an individual pregnancy, because everyone has different genes for metabolising alcohol," she said.

Prof Elliott said new research showed the environment in the womb could be impacted by drinking as early as conception.

"FASD is the end point but there are many harms that can happen in between," she said, including cerebral palsy, increased rates of cardiovascular disease later in life, language and academic problems.

"The safest advice is to avoid alcohol if you're planning a pregnancy or during pregnancy."

NOFASD chief executive Louise Gray said in Australia is was largely assumed that people knew the risks, so doctors often didn't raise the issue with patients.

But with almost 50 per cent of Australian women falling pregnant unexpectedly and approximately 60 per cent reporting using alcohol while expecting, Ms Gray said more awareness was needed.

"We don't know what level of alcohol will cause FASD," she said.

"If Australian women and families were well informed, no one would want to run the risk."

Ms Gray and Prof Elliott also said many people weren't aware of the size of one standard drink.

"Mixer drinks can have up to three or four units of alcohol in them," Professor Elliott said.

"You only need to have three or four of those and you've had a significant binge."

Australian Associated Press