pregnant women alcoholic foetal alcohol syndrome

Pregnant women who can’t stop drinking, are being urged to seek help. Image: Tomás Pichardo-Espaillat via Flickr

‘Pregnant alcoholics, please seek help’ – SA experts

Experts are urging pregnant women who can’t stop drinking alcohol, to seek urgent help to prevent foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

pregnant women alcoholic foetal alcohol syndrome

Pregnant women who can’t stop drinking, are being urged to seek help. Image: Tomás Pichardo-Espaillat via Flickr

Concerned experts are calling on women who can’t stop drinking even when they know they are pregnant, to seek urgent help.

This as South Africa has the highest rate of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in the world.

As FASD Awareness Month is coming to an end, organisations have highlighted the continued prevalence of alcohol abuse, how it affects pregnant women and their unborn babies.

The problem appears to have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic as alcoholism and substance abuse has been worsened by other social ills.

South Africa’s boozing shame

  • In South Africa, up to 290 out of 1000 babies are born with FASD, the highest rate in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
  • According to the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research [FARR], about seven million people living in South Africa exhibit characteristics associated with FASD.
  • Heavy drinkers drank even more than usual during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly half of these were women.
  • A study by the University of Cape Town found that heavy episodic drinkers (HED) were prone to consuming more alcohol during restrictions.
  • Of the 798 participants in the survey, nearly half were classified as heavy episodic drinkers (HED). More than 60% of males and 43% of females falling in the HED category.

ALSO READ: SAB: Reports prove Fetal Alcohol Syndrome highest in SA

Pregnant women need mental health support

Pregnant women who drink alcohol are likely struggling with long-neglected mental health issues, according to specialist psychiatrist Dr Bavi Vythilingum.

“Women who are unable to stop drinking despite knowing it will harm their child are in desperate need of mental healthcare,” said Vythilingum, who practices at Netcare Akeso Kenilworth, a mental health facility in Johannesburg.

The effects of alcohol abuse during pregnancy are devastating and lasting on both the mother and the child.

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“Foetal alcohol syndrome includes characteristic facial abnormalities such as small eyes and a smooth ridge between the upper lip and nose, as well as a number of other internal and external physical deformities. It furthermore affects brain and central nervous system development and results in numerous behavioural issues as the child grows up.”

– Dr Bavi Vythilingum

According to the WHO, there is no known amount of alcohol that is safe for a pregnant woman to drink, neither is this the case for those trying to fall pregnant. Drinking while breastfeeding is also not encouraged.

KwaZulu-Natal authorities concerned about FASD prevalence

Community members have highlighted Kokstad in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN as having an alarming rate of FASD, according to Sunday World. They have called on social workers to intervene.

According to the publication, the small town has been featured in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Development’s 9-9-9 campaign against drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Dr Guru Kistnasamy, board member for the department’s Central Drug Authority, has called on the campaign to be taken to schools, taverns and healthcare facilities.