Press Release

Minister Gallagher renews advice to women not to drink alcohol in pregnancy

Mr Pat the Cope Gallagher T.D., Minister for Health Promotion and Food Safety, today (7 September 2007) highlighted the risk of alcohol consumption and pregnancy. Minister Gallagher stated ‘I wish to endorse the advice being given today by the Department of Health and Children’s Chief Medical Officer. It is essential that women are provided with all the relevant information for a safe and successful pregnancy. Therefore, women need to be aware of the risk associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy. As the evidence does not specify a safe level of alcohol consumption, the best advice to women is not to consume alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive.’

Following publication of the report entitled ‘The Coombe Women’s Hospital Study of Alcohol, Smoking and Illicit Drug Use, 1988-2005′ in March this year, Mary Harney TD, Minister for Health and Children asked the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in the Department of Health and Children to consider the data presented in the Study particularly with respect to the finding that most pregnant women drink alcohol. The Study found that 1 in 10 women reported drinking more than 6 units of alcohol per week in pregnancy and that this pattern was more pronounced in younger women. The CMO also reviewed the available international evidence including that from the Surgeon General in the United States and more recently from the Department of Health in the United Kingdom.

The Chief Medical Officer has concluded that:-

  • Alcohol consumption by pregnant women in Ireland poses a risk to unborn babies
  • There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • Alcohol offers no benefits to pregnancy outcomes
  • It is in the child’s best interest for a pregnant woman not to drink alcohol during pregnancy

The CMO is now providing unambiguous advice in relation to alcohol consumption and pregnancy.

‘Given the harmful drinking patterns in Ireland and the propensity to ‘binge drink’, there is a substantial risk of neurological damage to the foetus resulting in Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Alcohol offers no benefits to pregnancy outcomes. Therefore, it is in the child’s best interest for a pregnant woman not to drink alcohol during pregnancy.’ the CMO said.

The Health Service Executive will commence work on updating and disseminating information materials for use by the general public and medical professionals to include the CMO’s advice that women should avoid alcohol before and during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The HSE will also meet with relevant stakeholders with regard to developing and implementing education initiatives for health professionals on this issue.

The Department of Health and Children is consulting with relevant stakeholders on the proposal to introduce a requirement that alcohol containers and promotional materials carry a label with a health warning about drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Today’s strengthened advice is issued to coincide with the Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day which takes place on the 9th day of the 9th month each year (9th September).

A person having any concerns in relation to the CMO’s advice on alcohol consumption and pregnancy should contact their General Practitioner or local maternity service provider.

Background

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is the umbrella term used to describe the range of effects that can be caused by maternal alcohol exposure. Children identified as suffering from FASD can show signs of behavioural, intellectual and physical difficulties including learning difficulties, poor language skills, poor memory skills and attention problems.