One in ten babies is born in Ireland with some form of fetal alcohol disorder each year, HSE says

About one in ten babies are born with some form of disorder each year because their mother consumed alcohol during pregnancy, with an estimated 600 having the most severe effects on their brain.

The HSE estimates that around 6,000 babies are born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) and 600 with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), the most severe form of FASD, each year in Ireland.

About 58,443 babies were born here last year, meaning about one in ten was born with some form of FASD.

Figures from the HSE also show that the number of hospital discharges of newborns diagnosed to have been affected by their pregnant mother’s alcohol or drug use rose to 102 in the first year of the pandemic, compared to 96 in 2019.

A study by the World Health Organization estimates that Ireland has the third highest FASD rate in the world at 47.5 per 1,000 people.

HSE Officer Mary Joe Biggs said information about children who are addicted to alcohol or who are severely affected by alcohol is not readily available because the effects on children, particularly in relation to alcohol use, span a wide spectrum for which there is no reliable clinical test or screening test available for milder and more subtle cases.

“The best available evidence estimates that around 600 Irish babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome each year, with a further nine to 10 times that number of babies born in Ireland each year who have other fetal alcohol spectrum disorders,” she said in response to a parliamentary Request from Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín.

“The majority of these children will have no visible signs of disability at birth, and difficulties may not arise until preschool or school age.

“As there is no registry of persons with neurodevelopmental disorders in Ireland, no current data is available on cases of FASD in Ireland.”

She added that the HSE recorded discharge data per treatment episode.

Patients may be hospitalized more than once with the same or a different diagnosis in a given period of time.

The HSE said even a small amount of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy can affect a baby’s development and cause lifelong effects like FASD.

FASD is a group of disorders caused by prenatal alcohol exposure that are also associated with a range of lifelong physical, mental, educational, and behavioral difficulties.

Alcohol has an adverse effect on brain development and body organs.

It’s often an invisible disability, but prenatal alcohol use is the most common preventable cause of neurodevelopmental disorders.

People with FASD experience lifelong challenges and may need support in many aspects of their health. They can struggle with learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills.

It can cause a child to have learning and behavioral problems, and they may have trouble getting along with other people and have emotional and mental health problems. They may also be smaller than expected and have trouble eating and sleeping.

There are no tests to diagnose FASD, meaning doctors have to rely on physical or mental signs. Typically they look for abnormal facial features, below average height or weight, and central nervous system problems.

Tips that can help pregnant women include planning alcohol-free activities, avoiding triggers (people and places) that encourage drinking, and asking partners, friends, and family for support. One in ten babies is born in Ireland with some form of fetal alcohol disorder each year, HSE says

Fry Electronics Team

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