Children born with the "invisible birth defect" of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) do not automatically qualify for disability support.
FASD can "masquerade as naughty behaviour, poor parenting, lack of discipline or simple-mindedness", Labor MP Graham Perrett, who chairs federal parliament's social policy committee, said yesterday.
Australians with FASD should be classified as having a "cognitive impairment" so they can automatically qualify for a disability support pension, the committee recommends.
This would place alcohol-affected children in the same category as those born blind or deaf, or with Down syndrome or cerebral palsy.
Criminals with disabilities may also be given reduced sentences due to "reduced culpability".
The committee has published a shocking photo of the shrunken brain of a six-week old baby whose mother drank heavily during pregnancy.
Its report says that when a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol is passed directly to the foetus through the placenta, where it can kill the growing baby's cells.
"The foetus is unable to break down alcohol in the way that an adult does and so the blood alcohol level of the foetus becomes equal to or greater than the blood alcohol level of the mother," it says.
"Defects caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol have been identified in virtually every part of the body, including the brain, face, eyes, ears, heart, kidneys and bones.
"... alcohol exposure can have serious and permanent effects on the developing foetal brain."
A mother's drinking can disrupt stem cell growth, and shrink parts of the baby's brain, affecting lifelong memory, learning and emotion.
Drinking in the last three months of pregnancy can create problems with a baby's vision and hearing, the report says.
The inquiry concludes that all pregnancy and ovulation kits - as well as cans and bottles of alcohol - must be labelled with warnings for women not to drink while pregnant, within a year.
It rejects the alcohol industry's claims that warnings might scare some women into aborting their babies.
The report, tabled in parliament yesterday. warns that 60 per cent of Australian women drink during pregnancy.
Women in their 40s are more than twice as likely as the under-25s to drink while pregnant.
And the wealthier and better-educated the woman, the more likely she is to drink at some stage during the pregnancy.
The inquiry says these women "may be accustomed to enjoying alcohol in moderation at social events, or in the context of an evening meal".
The committee criticises an "alarming and irresponsible lack of awareness" by some doctors and midwives who continue to tell pregnant women that moderate drinking while pregnant is safe.
"The committee considers this a devastating failing in our health system," its report says.
The prevalance of FASD in Australia is not known, but the parliamentary report cites a Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services estimate that at least two in every 100 babies are born with FASD.
heraldsun.com.au 30 Nov 2012
Not only does alcohol contribute to deformities in unborn children, so does smoking, and antidepressants.
Mothers who knowingly drink alcohol, should be charged with child abuse.