Health professionals are calling for a more supportive pregnancy environment for women in regards to alcohol.

September 9 marks the 20th anniversary of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day to remind people about the damage that drinking while pregnant can cause.

Health promotion advisor for FASD Christine Rogan said everyone participating in the day was invited to share in a moment of reflection at 9.09am.

This time marks the ninth minute, of the ninth hour, of the ninth day, of the ninth month, "to symbolise the nine months of pregnancy in which to have a healthy baby and to reflect on those already living with FASD," Rogan said.


Many unplanned pregnancies in New Zealand were at high risk of alcohol exposure.

"We want everyone to understand the link between drinking during pregnancy and the difficulties this can lead to as children grow up," Rogan said.

"We need a multi-faceted approach that supports women of child-bearing age to recognise their drinking habits and have an environment that supports them, in a non-judgemental way, to provide the best environment they can for their unborn children."

Whanganui District Health Board health promoter Chester Penaflor said this month was an opportunity to korero and educate families about the importance of abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy.

"Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can last a lifetime and there is no cure. Problems can include behavioural and intellectual disabilities and heart defects. But it's also 100 per cent preventable by being alcohol-free."

Penaflor said there was no safe time, type or amount of alcohol for pregnant women to drink, due to alcohol in the bloodstream being able to pass easily through the placenta, causing the baby to be exposed to the same blood alcohol level as the mother.

Dr Cherryl Smith, a researcher at Te Atawhai o Te Ao, is a grandmother raising her grandson who has recently been diagnosed with the disorder.

She believes the disorder is a known condition in New Zealand but not well recognised.


"Because it's foetal alcohol and it occurs while women are pregnant, there is a stigma attached to it and this means it gets put in the too hard basket."

Smith said the way society treated children and adults with condition often made them "invisible" to others.

Before September 2020, Smith would like the disorder recognised as a disability in line with the United Nations conventions and to get a diagnostic service that is adequately resourced throughout the country.

She would also like proper support groups put in place for parents, whānau, caregivers and workers who support children with the disorder.

Smith said she was lucky to be part of a support group in Whanganui, set up by Susan Edgecombe and Penaflor, that supported parents and caregivers of children with the disorder.

"Awareness is growing but we need a lot more for things to really start kicking," Smith said.

Penaflor also recommended women who wanted to get pregnant should avoid alcohol.

Ways to be alcohol-free during pregnancy included asking partners, whānau and friends for support through pregnancy by discouraging alcohol at home and at events and having non-alcoholic drinks at social gatherings.