Giving your child a healthy start in life is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, the Chairman of the BMA in Scotland said on Thursday. The call came as BMA Scotland published a briefing paper on the health impact of smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy on the unborn child. The paper also highlights how existing health inequalities lead to an increased risk for certain groups of Scotland's children.
One in every seven babies born each year in Scotland requires some form of special care. Two of the main reasons for requiring this care are premature birth and low birth weight. Smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy both increase the risk of these.
- 25% of women in Scotland smoke during pregnancy, affecting 12,500 babies
- 55% of women in the UK report drinking alcohol during their pregnancy
"Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), an increased risk of the child developing diabetes and an increased risk of attention deficit disorder. If the child continues to be exposed to smoke during infancy there is an increased risk of asthma and ear infections. These risks are increased for those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland.
"Heavy drinking during pregnancy can lead to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD is a term used to encompass a wide range of physical, mental and behavioural effects that can occur in the children of mothers who consume alcohol during pregnancy. However, the affects of maternal alcohol consumption are not limited to FASD. Alcohol can also increase the risk of infertility, miscarriage and has been linked to an increase risk of SIDS. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a problem across all of Scotland and its effects are not limited to socially deprived areas.
Dr Sally Winning, a member of the BMA's Scottish Council who, at this year's Annual Representatives meeting in Edinburgh, put forward a motion calling for clear advice to pregnant women, said,
"There are strong links between low income, social deprivation and poor infant health and continued efforts are needed to address the factors that underlie the health inequalities affecting the least advantaged sections of the population in Scotland."
The paper calls on the Scottish Government to act assertively to improve infant health in Scotland.
Key recommendations in the paper include:
- For certain groups - in particular those with young children and those on low incomes - attendance at smoking cessation services may present barriers. Smoking cessation outreach programmes aimed at reaching such groups should be established. Pregnant women and their partners should be targeted
- Breastfeeding should be promoted for the health of the mother and baby. The effects of smoking on breastfeeding should be highlighted.
- Government should issue clear and consistent advice on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The BMA believes women who are pregnant, or who are planning a pregnancy, should be advised not to consume any alcohol.
- Comprehensive and long term research on FASD in Scotland should be undertaken.