Articles like the one that appears in the Telegraph today, saying that drinking when pregnant is unlikely to harm the baby are usually British ones. South African, American, Australian and Canadian press reports are much more likely to take the position that there is a known link between drinking and damage. I am not making any value judgements, just pointing out that there would seem to be a cultural bias in a) the publication of research and b) its take up in national media outlets.
The newest British research to find that alcohol need not damage the baby uses a measure whereby children’s balance is measured. Parents of FASD children will know that it is a very complex condition and that while balance may not be compromised so much else is that it makes very little difference. We used to just measure facial dimensions when diagnosing FASD but then realised that the face develops between weeks 8 and 10 of gestation and so if a really heavy drinker didn’t drink just for those two weeks the child would not be diagnosed with FASD, even when global delay and damage was caused due to drinking for the other 38 weeks. I wonder if the measure of balance is similar.
I don’t think that we have even begun to understand this condition yet and while we are fighting against acknowledging its existence we cannot hope to begin to look at understanding and helping children whose entire development is affected, not just their ability to walk on a beam. Sound byte reporting, simplistic measures, biased research and an inability to look at the detail in each case and learn from one child at a time makes me feel that certainly here in the UK, we have a long long way to go. The Telegraph touches on the point that genetics, poverty, age and many other factors will also influence the fetal uptake of alcohol and this, for me, is key. If we can’t look at the problem multi-dimensionally and at the child holistically then we won’t be able to understand what is going on.
Another (American) article this week looked at Thyroxine as a possible buffer for babies exposed to alcohol. First we have to acknowledge that it happens…