When Sophie and her husband decided to try to conceive their first child 16 years ago, they never expected to be successful in the first month, but that's exactly what happened.
"I recall telling my GP ¨C it was six and a half weeks into my pregnancy that it was confirmed ¨C that I'd had alcohol on the night of conception, and then there would have been another couple of occasions after that, in the third and fifth week that I'd had more than a few drinks," she said.?
The amount of alcohol Sophie had consumed didn't seem like a cause for concern, and it wasn't unusual for the early 2000s either.?
Sophie was shocked to learn last year, that the small amount of alcohol was enough for her son to be diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
Symptoms of FASD can include low body weight, poor coordination, hyperactive behaviour, poor memory, learning difficulties, speech and language delays, low IQ, vision or hearing problems, sleep problems and trouble sucking in babies.?
Sophie's son didn't have all of those symptoms, although she says he was a terrible sleeper as a baby, and she had difficulty breastfeeding him. As a first-time mum, she put it down to the luck of the draw.?
It wasn't until her son was a bit older that she realised there was something more serious going on.?
"At pre-primary level we were told he was struggling to remember things, like his colours and his numbers," she says. "One day he would understand the next day he didn't.?
"When he was 11, we realised there was a significant issue. When he was working independently, he couldn't do very much by himself in the classroom.?
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"He went on to get an ADHD diagnosis at 14 but because he's not outwardly active, loud or distracted, he would learn strategies to mask his lack of attention really well."
Sophie says the reason it took such a long time for her son to be diagnosed is probably because her drinking was considered to be low level, and there were no compounding issues in their family such as trauma, addiction or mental health concerns.
"We always played to his strengths," she says. "We looked at what he could do, not what he couldn't do. And he always had good structure and routine, with set rules and boundaries, which have turned out to be helpful factors for dealing with FASD.
"I realise that his outcome could have been much worse, we've been very lucky."
We know now that there is no such thing as safe consumption of alcohol while pregnant. The Department of Health states unequivocally on its website: "To prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol."
And a new national awareness campaign by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and endorsed and funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, aims to raise awareness of the risks of drinking alcohol while pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or breastfeeding and FASD.
With the tagline 'The moment you start trying is the moment to stop drinking', we'll be seeing the campaign on television, radio, digital and out-of-home channels until July 2024.
FARE CEO Caterina Giorgi says the Every Moment Matters campaign will help address the mixed messages people often receive about alcohol and pregnancy.
"There is a lot of misinformation about alcohol and pregnancy, and it makes it hard for people to find the latest accurate information," Giorgi says.
"The Campaign will provide clear information to Australians about the risks of drinking alcohol at every stage of pregnancy, to support all Australian families to be healthy and well.
Sophie hopes the campaign makes a difference, and that she can help by sharing her story.
"My hope is that the campaign encourages anybody who is thinking about stopping contraception to ensure they also stop drinking alcohol because alcohol and pregnancy don't go well together," she says.?
"Whilst I wish my son hadn't been exposed to alcohol in utero, I believe that sharing my story can make a difference and help couples like my husband and I who didn't realise that even the smallest amount of alcohol can cause FASD."
For more information, please visit the NOFASD Australia website or call their confidential 7-day a week helpline on 1800 860 613.
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