Hundreds upon hundreds of babies are born each year in New Zealand with foetal alcohol syndrome, a devastating and incurable condition that can cause life-long problems.
It is transmitted during pregnancy when alcohol from the mother’s bloodstream reaches the developing foetus, and can cause heart defects, behavioural problems and intellectual disability.
The Ministry of Health says about 45,000 New Zealanders, from babies to adults may live with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The ministry’s estimate is 1800 affected births each year, while some researchers using overseas data, estimate that figure to be closer to 3000.
With increasing awareness around the effects of alcohol on unborn children, a push for mandatory labelling on alcohol warning about those dangers has been in play since the 1990s.
The notion that warning labels on alcohol will lead to fewer cases of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is fanciful.
It relies on the following:
- The mother being genuinely unaware of the dangers of drinking when pregnant despite being told at every appointment with their lead maternity carer, and it being on brochures they will have received
- The mother purchases a bottle of booze, and as she raises it up to have a drink she sees the warning label and suddenly realises it is harmful, and decides not to drink the bottle she has just purchased
The sad reality is that most of the very small minority of mothers who drink significantly while pregnant just don’t care. It is not a matter of ignorance.
I don’t mean the mother who has a small glass of wine once or twice during pregnancy. I mean the mothers who drink to excess and their kids get FASD.
I’ve got no problems with pregnancy warning labels on alcohol. They are already quite common. I just think a belief they will change anything is fanciful.