26 June 2020

Campaign urges expecting mums to take a 'Pregnant Pause'

| James Coleman
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Labelling advises against consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Photo: File.

Alcohol plays an important part in the social life of most Australians, and giving it up can be tough, even if you’re pregnant.

To help pregnant women, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) is urging mothers-to-be across Canberra to take a ‘Pregnant Pause’.

Their message is simple: “there is no ‘safe’ amount of drinking, no ‘safe’ alcohol-strength and no ‘safe’ time during pregnancy to drink alcohol.”

They are calling for everything from wellness spas to restaurants, cafes, sports clubs, gyms, galleries, early learning centres, and doctor’s surgeries to become ‘Community Heroes’ by offering their support and creating spaces where women will find it easier to not take a drink and be supported in their decision.

The face of the campaign is Kristen Davidson from Mix 106.3 FM, who also happens to be expecting a baby.

“Being pregnant for the first time, I am aware that it’s a big responsibility and sometimes challenging to make changes to things like diet and routines to give babies the healthiest start in life. And this is especially true when it comes to drinking alcohol,” she says.

“Becoming pregnant can be a time of joy and celebration, with milestones along the journey acknowledged and shared through social interactions and events involving alcohol. It can be tricky for women who are pregnant to be at the centre of these celebrations in our community while abstaining from alcohol.”

Kristen Davidson

Soon-to-be first-time mum Kristen Davidson is the face of the 2020 Pregnant Pause campaign. Photo: FARE.

FARE CEO Caterina Giorgi says it isn’t easy for anyone to go alcohol-free and there are many mixed messages within the community about how much alcohol is safe for a pregnant woman to consume. Pregnant Pause aims to make it easier.

“The Pregnant Pause Community Heroes campaign aims to make the alcohol-free pregnancy journey a little easier by building a safe and welcoming environment for women who are pregnant to be alcohol-free,” Ms Giorgi says.

“Not only do we have more information for mums-to-be and their family and friends seeking advice on alcohol and pregnancy, but this information will now be better shared and understood across the community.”

Backed by the ACT Government, Pregnant Pause is one of the territory’s attempts to combat what both the FARE and the federal government have attempted to tackle for years.

Since 2013, the Department of Health has poured millions of dollars into various plans and programs, all designed to prevent complications caused by consuming alcohol while pregnant. These include heart, brain and kidney issues, and, above all, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

FASD is a mental condition which affects a person for life. In newborns, it can take the form of anything from poor sleep patterns to facial abnormalities, and in older children, delayed development to a short attention span and poor cognitive skills.

Adults with FASD are prone to higher rates of mental health disorders, contact with the justice system, substance misuse, and are less likely to live and work independently.

Australia doesn’t have any precise figures on how prevalent FASD is among the population in general, but there are some reference points.

According to the ABS, 6,112 babies were born in the ACT in 2018. The Department of Health cites likely FASD rates of up to 0.68 per 1,000 births within the total Australian population. This puts the number of FASD-affected babies born in the ACT in 2018 at 41.

FARE says around 76,000 babies are exposed to alcohol every year across Australia, and approximately 2,142 babies are born with some form of FASD each year (about 2.8% of those exposed to alcohol).

As no safe level or time for alcohol has been identified, the advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council is that women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy should not drink at all.

At Karinya House for Mothers and Babies in Canberra, Finance and Business Manager Jo Saccasan says there is a broader message in the Pregnant Pause campaign.

“The Pregnant Pause campaign is about substance abuse in general.”

She says this is often born out of trauma in the woman’s life, and not helped by an Australian society built on alcohol, and celebrating with alcohol. It’s part of a wider effort to improve the lives of women in difficult situations.

To learn more, visit Pregnant Pause.

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