Hundreds of Finnish newborn babies damaged by alcohol
Hundreds, and possibly thousands of children in Finland are born each year suffering from the ill effects caused by alcohol consumed by the mother during pregnancy. According to Research Professor Ilona Autti-Rämö of the Social Insurance Institution KELA, the problem is getting worse.
The situation is attributed to increased alcohol consumption by women. At present, many of the women of child-bearing age had grown accustomed to heavy drinking in their early youth.
In 1995, half of Finnish 16-year-olds said that they had been intoxicated at least once in the previous month. One in five girls said that they get severely intoxicated once a month.
The pace continues in adulthood. One in four women aged 15 to 29 say that they get intoxicated frequently, and 43 per cent say that they do so now and then. One in five of those aged 20 to 49 get drunk often, and one in five do so occasionally.
The amount of alcohol that is consumed at one time is also increasing. A study published last year about Finnish drinking habits revealed that Finnish women aged 30 to 49 drink like men did in 1968.
Most will stop after one glass or two, but a growing number are drinking more than five servings at a time. The number of those drinking 8 to 12 servings has more than doubled compared with 1976.
Professor Autti-Rämö wants to see measures aimed at preventing damage to foetuses from their mothers’ use of alcohol.
She calls for giving a clear message that pregnancy and alcohol do not mix. The European Union, meanwhile, is working on a system of warning labels on beverage containers.
“Alcohol is the largest single preventable cause of foetal damage”, Autti-Rämö points out.
Diagnosis of alcohol-related foetal damage is not easy. The injuries can be small or extensive, and sometimes they do not emerge until the child is in school. Consequently, estimates about the extent of the problem are difficult to make.
The matter was studied in Finland about 20 years ago. At that time, about 600 children were affected each year. Autti-Rämö says that the problem is much greater today.
The World Health Organisation is launching a study, which also includes Finland. According to studies conducted elsewhere, thousands of children might be affected in Finland each year. In Parliament, the figure that has been repeatedly put forward is 3,000.
Autti-Rämö says that those who are pregnant need to be asked about their use of alcohol, and heavy users need to be offered treatment. She says that the treatment needs to be extensive and voluntary – not coercive. A bill on coercive treatment might come before Parliament next year.
Diagnosing foetal alcohol syndrome also needs to be upgraded. Individualised treatment and rehabilitation are needed, lest the problems overshadow the child’s entire life.
Foetal Alcohol syndrome (Better Health Channel)