Mums-to-be putting babies at risk by drinking

By Sophie Ryan of the Northern Advocate -
Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Mums-to-be are putting their babies at risk by continuing to drink during pregnancy, and even driving under the influence of alcohol.

A heavily pregnant Whangarei woman was caught last weekend driving with an excess breath alcohol level of 789 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath, nearly twice the legal limit, shocking health workers and police officers.

The Ministry of Health has studied the harm of drinking during pregnancy and concluded that there is no safe amount to drink. Drinking and driving further boosts the risk for the mother-to-be, other road users and the unborn child.

A report released in 2009 claimed one in four women in New Zealand continued to drink throughout their pregnancy.

Road policing manager Inspector Murray Hodson said he could not comment on whether this was a regular occurrence on Northland roads - saying there is no box to tick to record someone as pregnant or not pregnant when pulled over by police.

However, he did confirm police officers have seen it before.

In September 2009 a 15-year-old Whangarei girl was sent to a youth justice facility after being convicted of drink driving three times, twice while she was 14 years old and pregnant.

The teenager was caught twice in one week in January 2009 and recorded levels of 828 mcg and 766 mcg of alcohol per litre of breath. The limit for drivers under 20 is 150 mcg.

In November 2009 a 32-year-old Whangarei woman was sentenced to 14 months in prison after being caught with a level of 580 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath while she was heavily pregnant.

A Northland District Health Board worker believes anecdotal evidence shows the Northland rate of women drinking throughout their pregnancy is higher than the national rate.

Northland DHB health promotions adviser for alcohol and other drugs Dave Hookway assists healthcare workers and other agencies that interact with women during pregnancy and after giving birth to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy. "It [foetal alcohol spectrum disorders] is the most preventable form of mental retardation," he said.

He said there were three steps that all agencies working with women during pregnancy and after giving birth were taught.

The first is to ask about whether the mother is drinking during pregnancy, they then record the amount and how often, and then refer them on to alcohol education services or something similar.

"We remind them, it's only nine months where you have to say 'no way, not even one drink,"' he said.

Mr Hookway said it was scary to think of the massive risk these women were taking by drinking and driving while pregnant.

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