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Alcohol during pregnancy has life-long costs

Letter

We are writing to wish you and all your readers a safe and relaxing Christmas — and to remind everybody that when an unborn child is exposed to alcohol in the womb, they are at high-risk of developing a serious disability, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Around half of pregnancies in New Zealand are unplanned, and alcohol can harm an unborn baby even in those early times before pregnancy recognition.

Drinking increases at this time of year, but so does conception of children. We urge everyone in our community to drink responsibly. But to those who have even the tiniest chance of conceiving — please double-check your contraception or choose non-alcoholic drinks.

Science now tells us that even small amounts of alcohol consumed during pregnancy can cause harm to the developing brain and body. If we took the blood alcohol level of a baby in the womb exposed to alcohol, it would be the same as the blood alcohol level of the mother!

Lots of things cause disability, but many people don't realise that exposure to alcohol in the womb is the biggest cause of intellectual disability and neurodisability. Over 250,000 New Zealanders suffer from FASD, possibly more, as our health system is not yet effective at identifying it.

Those with FASD can struggle with attention, memory, communication, cognition, impulsivity and reasoning difficulties. Long-term, people with FASD experience difficulties with relationships, school and employment, and experience catastrophically-higher rates of suicide, mental health disorders and involvement with the justice system.

FASD is not yet funded for support by the Ministry of Health, despite being two and a half times more prevalent than autism, which is funded. This is why we need to raise awareness.

We would like to thank The Gisborne Herald for sharing many stories over the past few years about our efforts to raise awareness about FASD in Tairawhiti. Many readers will see our “Tapu Whilst Hapu” posters around town now too.

We wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a season filled with responsible drinking and protected encounters!

Tairawhiti FASD Working Group

Sarah Goldsbury, Jo van Wyk, Courtney Stubbins, Kaniwa Kupenga-Tamarama and Danielle Takoko