General Practitioners, obstetricians and midwives play an important role in talking to women about having a healthy pregnancy. They should take any opportunity to ask and advise about alcohol use when planning a pregnancy and during pregnancy. Some women may find it difficult to stop drinking and will require referral to services that assist with addiction problems.
Health professionals can help address the issue of alcohol use for women planning a pregnancy and during pregnancy.
- Ask about their alcohol use
- Assess and record the level of risk of the alcohol consumption
- Advise women that alcohol use may: harm the developing fetus; no alcohol is the safest option; alcohol reaches concentrations in the fetal circulation are as high as the mothers; and stopping drinking at any time during pregnancy reduces the risk to the fetus
- Assist women to stop or reduce alcohol consumption through positive reinforcement; talking about the consequences of alcohol exposure to the fetus; and conducting brief interventions with the aim of supporting the woman to abstain, and where this is not possible, to reduce alcohol use
- Arrange for further support by planning additional consultations or referral to specialist services and support groups
What is an alcohol use disorder
Alcohol use disorder is usually seen as problematic drinking that results in a range of situations such as:
- drinking more or for a longer period of time
- spending a lot of time recovering from the after effects of alcohol
- craving or thinking about wanting to drink
- continuing to drink even though it is causing problems with family members, friends, education or work
- continuing to drink even when it is causing health problems such as trouble sleeping, heart palpitations, anxiety, memory loss
- putting yourself and others at risk by drinking and driving; drinking and operating machinery; drinking and engaging in unsafe sex
Alcohol use disorders can range from mild to severe, with the most severe being alcohol dependence.
What is needed?
There is a lack of highly trained professionals and appropriate services for pregnant women with alcohol use problems. Research conducted at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) confirms:
- all pregnant women who screen positively for alcohol-use disorders should be offered access to treatment that matches the severity of the disorder. Treatment may include inpatient admission for detoxification if necessary.
- all pregnant women who are alcohol dependent should be offered extended hospitalisation after their child’s birth for additional help and support. Women and children should also be followed-up through the child’s formative years to provide assistance with healthcare, social services, housing and parenting.
- treatment of pregnant women who are alcohol dependent should be undertaken by a multidisciplinary team. This includes alcohol and other drug services, obstetric care and a GP.