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Experts are urging couples cooped up indoors to choose between pregnancy and alcohol, if conception is a possibility, following reports that Australians are drinking more.

Social isolation during coronavirus means that couples are spending more time together, and a working from home baby boom is a real possibility in 2021. In addition, alcohol sales in Australia have increased dramatically, and many Australians report drinking more than usual.

Clinicians, including Elizabeth Elliott, Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Sydney, are concerned that current circumstances may result in more women drinking during pregnancy and hence more prenatal alcohol exposure.

“Prenatal alcohol exposure may harm the unborn baby, resulting in a range of preventable consequences including miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth, low birth weight and birth defects,” says Professor Elliott. “It may also cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), with associated lifelong disability and impacts on physical health, learning and memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, daily living and social skills. Many women tell us they are unaware that alcohol can harm the unborn child.”

Fathers’ alcohol consumption before conception can also impact child outcomes, including low birth weight, impaired learning and memory and impaired cognitive functioning.

Prenatal alcohol exposure is already common in Australia. About 60% of women report using alcohol in pregnancy. Nearly 50% of Australian women get pregnant unexpectedly, and many women are not aware of their pregnancy for several weeks. This means lots of babies are exposed to alcohol before mum and dad realise there’s a baby on the way. Many people think that one or two drinks won’t harm a baby, but no amount of alcohol has been found safe during pregnancy. Louise Gray, the CEO of NOFASD, Australia’s national FASD Helpline service, says if you are sexually active, potentially able to conceive and want to avoid the risks of an alcohol exposed pregnancy, you have two choices – No alcohol or contraception.

“One a day is not ok”

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Guideline states that alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy and when planning pregnancy and that “the effects of alcohol exposure on fetal development occur throughout pregnancy (including before the pregnancy is confirmed)”. The lifelong consequences for the child and their family can be very high. Learn more about FASD.

Recommendations for working from home:

Couples are encouraged to plan their pregnancies and make healthy choices during COVID-19:

  • If you’re trying to get pregnant, both partners should switch to non-alcoholic drinks.
  • If you are pregnant, one a day is not ok. Ask your partner to support you by quitting alcohol together.
  • As nearly 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, think carefully about your drinking. Effective contraception is important if you are using alcohol.

Some people find it difficult to stop drinking, especially during times of stress. View the Department of Health resources to support mental health, FARE’s alcohol-free strategies to stay healthy and relax, or contact a service for more support.

If you have questions or concerns around pregnancy and alcohol call the National FASD Helpline on 1800 860 613 or contact NOFASD Australia.

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