Consistency of alcohol education during pregnancy ‘absolutely crucial’

Reports of women not receiving adequate information about alcohol consumption have prompted experts to ensure transparency across the cycle of care.

Pregnant woman drinking
Experts believe more training is needed to ensure GPs, doctors and midwives deliver appropriate advice about the risks of drinking while pregnant.

Pregnant women want their healthcare provider to advise them on alcohol consumption, but some doctors are hesitant due to the ‘perceived sensitivity’ of the issue.

That was the finding of a panel of experts at a 19 May hearing for an ongoing Senate inquiry into effective approaches to prevention and diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Terms of Reference of the inquiry, launched last year, include strategies for optimising life outcomes for people with FASD, supporting carers, and the prevalence and management of FASD, including in vulnerable populations, the education system, and the criminal justice system, as well as to assess the effectiveness of the National FASD Action Plan 2018–28, including gaps in ensuring a nationally coordinated response and adequacy of funding.

Curtain University Associate Professor Nyanda McBride, co-author of the National Drug Research Institute’s submission to the inquiry, said at the hearing that despite national guidelines advising that there is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy, some women are not being informed by their healthcare providers.

She believes more training is needed to ensure GPs, doctors and midwives deliver appropriate advice about the risks of drinking while pregnant.

‘It is extremely important for healthcare professionals to initiate conversations about drinking with all their pregnant patients and their partners, not just those they consider at risk,’ Associate Professor McBride told newsGP.

‘Research reports that women want a clear understanding of current research to guide their decisions about alcohol use during pregnancy, and healthcare professionals are in a prime position to provide this advice.’

However, Associate Professor McBride identified in her research that some GPs may have reservations due to potential impact on the patient–doctor relationship.

‘Asking about alcohol could appear judgmental and GPs want to maintain good rapport so that women continue to attend antenatal care,’ she said.

‘Some GPs noted that they lacked the skills and resources to raise the issue of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and were concerned about not having the right information on hand.

‘It is particularly important to reinforce to women that not drinking is the safest option for the fetus, and for healthcare professionals to have detailed understanding of the area, and to recognise that their advice – either solicited or unsolicited – can impact outcomes for a child and their family,’ Associate Professor McBride said.

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The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the FASD Prevention Conversation Project, its stakeholders, or funders.

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