'Stronger guidelines about drinking while pregnant needed in NI' says adoptive mum

More stringent guidelines around drinking alcohol while pregnant should be introduced in Northern Ireland.

That's the call from a County Down mum who adopted two children living with the effects of alcohol exposure in the womb.

Alison McNamara has said there needs to be better education about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.

She and her husband Brian adopted Reece and Jordan in England. It was only when the family moved to Northern Ireland that the brothers were diagnosed with a condition called FASD.

"Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a thing where the tummy mummy is pregnant and she takes a drink and the alcohol inside the drink affects the baby's brain completely different from a baby with their mum that hasn't taken a drink," explained 14-year-old Reece.

FASD has an impact on everyday tasks which many can often take for granted.

Fourteen-year-old Reece McNamara is an aspiring make-up artist Credit: McNamara family

"These children have poor social skills as well as difficulty with their memory," said Alison.

"Basic things like, 'Reece can you go upstairs and put on your school uniform?'

"He's forgotten by the time he's gone up the stairs and some morning's I just sit here and cry because I can hear him going, 'I wish I could remember, I wish I could remember'.

"Jordan’s 13 and he can’t read, he’s at basic pre-school reading levels.

"They are at half their chronological age with Jordan being 12-13, he’s functioning as a 6 or 7-year-old in some areas," explained Alison.

In March, proposals from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) were introduced in England around drinking while pregnant.

It outlined how health and care services in England can improve the diagnosis, assessment and prevention of FASD, with the standard stating that pregnant women are asked about their alcohol use throughout their pregnancy and this is recorded, but without automatically being transferred to the child's health record.

The McNamara family want to see those guidelines brought to Northern Ireland.

"We need to get the NICE guidelines over here, and adapted to us over here," said Alison.

"I will fight and I’ve already told MLAs, I will knock on your doors until my knuckles bleed, I will not take no for an answer.

"We are not against alcohol but there needs to be more information about the dangers about what it does," she added.

In a statement the Department of Health said: "Work on the planning and implementation of NICE Clinical Guideline NG201 on antenatal care is ongoing between the Department and HSC Trusts."

It added: "Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is the leading preventable intellectual and developmental disability.

"There is no safe level of alcohol consumption at any point during pregnancy.

"The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be low if a woman has drunk only small amounts of alcohol before she knew she was pregnant or during pregnancy.

"Women who find out they are pregnant after already having drunk during early pregnancy, should avoid further drinking, but should be aware that it is unlikely in most cases that their baby has been affected.

"If you are worried about how much you have been drinking when pregnant, talk to your doctor or midwife."

GP Frances O'Hagan told UTV that "finding out that you're pregnant is when most women then would stop drinking and the advice would be not to drink during your pregnancy".

"Certainly not to drink regularly during your pregnancy," she added.

"Whilst it's difficult to know how much alcohol is associated with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, the less you drink the better."

The McNamara family is part of the charity, O'Shays Brain Domain which also provides support in Scotland and Canada.

They're keen for other families in Northern Ireland living with the condition to get in touch.

"We’re very non-judgemental and we know there is a stigma attached to drinking alcohol and we’re not like that, we just want to help people and we just want to get support in place," said Alison.

"The dirty looks I’ve had until I say my children are adopted.

"‘Oh bless them’. No, don’t bless them.

"I would not have my children any other way because they would not be the unique, young men that they are and I’m so proud of them.

"It’s not easy but they’re my world and Brian's world."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.