Foetuses abused in the womb - study

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 13/05/2012

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New Zealand women are more than four times more likely to drink alcohol during pregnancy than mothers in the US, and twice as likely to drink heavily, a soon to be released study will show.

Health professionals are being trained in how to prevent and detect drinking during pregnancy, as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder rates look set to soar.

The study of about 100 lower socio-economic women by Auckland University psychological medicine department senior lecturer Trecia Wouldes, showed about 51 per cent of the women drank during pregnancy, about 10 per cent of them heavily so.

The developmental psychologist said in the US a study of a similar group of women showed only about 13 per cent were drinking, about 5 per cent heavily.

It's estimated that about 80 per cent of women of child-bearing age in the wider New Zealand population drink before they know they are pregnant.

From the point of pregnancy recognition, about 27 per cent continue to drink some alcohol, and about 10 per cent continue to drink heavily or binge drink.

Alcohol Healthwatch health promotions adviser Christine Rogan, who is also the national co-ordinator for the foetal alcohol network, said an online training module had been developed for health professionals to be able to raise the issue with women competently.

"That is just one thing we have done that we hope will contribute in a practical way to increasing awareness and helping health professionals."

They were also being encouraged to learn how to identify and diagnose foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, so a more informed view of how many children were affected could be established.

As it stood, it was estimated that 2-5 per cent of all New Zealand children would suffer from a foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, but until further research was undertaken it would be difficult to establish.

"If we don't identify it, how do we know it exists? If we don't know it exists, and we don't know the numbers, how can we expect to put any money into doing anything differently?"

Rogan said there was a "policy vacuum" with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. "These children are among us, and the system is not geared up, so people don't know what they are doing."

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