Drink Tank

New training on alcohol and pregnancy

I have been delighted to lead the development of the “Alcohol and Pregnancy” e-learning course for midwives as part of the Women Want to Know campaign. This is a free course that is being made available online for all midwives, not just those with an Australian College of Midwives membership. Women Want to Know is a campaign funded by the Department of Health and undertaken by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, which encourages health professionals to discuss alcohol and pregnancy with women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy.

This training course will make a difference to the practice of midwifery as it will give midwives practical strategies to assist them asking women about their alcohol intake, in addition to providing consistent messages about alcohol and pregnancy.

Midwives are familiar with asking difficult questions and broaching private issues, however the use of alcohol does get brushed over at times. This is due to the inconsistent information available to health professionals concerning the safe levels of alcohol consumption whilst pregnant, despite the fact the National Health and Medical Research Council Guidelines are very clear in stating that ‘It’s safest not to drink while pregnant’.

It can be difficult to see the impact that alcohol has on pregnancy, as Midwives rarely see babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. They may not be aware there is a whole spectrum of preventable non-genetic developmental disabilities caused by alcohol use during pregnancy. There is also a degree of assumption made about alcohol intake depending on the pregnant woman’s cultural and social background.

As an exceptionally experienced midwife, I was challenged about my own attitudes and beliefs surrounding alcohol consumption, especially when I learned in the course that older, middle class women are less likely to give up drinking alcohol in pregnancy than younger women. In the past, I would have made the assumption that older, educated women were more likely to give up drinking during pregnancy, however I now know that that isn’t necessarily the case and will adjust my practice accordingly.

There’s nothing midwives love better than free continuing professional development and as this course has such an important clinical focus and is so easily available online, I believe it will be highly valued by the midwifery profession. I strongly encourage all midwives to go to www.alcohol.gov.au and download or order the resources free of charge from the Women Want to Know campaign that can be used in your practice. Also be sure to visit http://www.midwives.org.au/ to find out more about the training available from the Australian College of Midwives.

Sarah Stewart

Sarah Stewart has been a midwife for over 30 years and is currently the Professional Officer at the Australian College of Midwives. Sarah’s work at the ACM includes preparing consultation submissions and position statements, influencing policy, carrying out research and developing education courses for midwives.

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