MEP calls for stricter EU measures to protect unborn babies

More needs to be done to ensure that unborn babies are not exposed to alcohol during pregnancy, explains Radvile Morkunaite-Mikuleniene.

One of the factors influencing the health of Europeans is the consumption of alcohol. The harm caused by alcohol is even bigger for such a vulnerable group as pregnant women.

According to experts, drinking during pregnancy is one of the main reasons for the fetal disorders in the European Union. Alcohol consumed even in small amount or during first semester of pregnancy prevents normal development of fetus, and can seriously harm the unborn baby.

Unfortunately, many women are not aware of this fact. Statistically, in the EU, almost half (in the UK and Ireland - up to three quarters) of pregnant women consume alcohol, about almost a quarter of them could be regarded as drinking heavily. Although the rate of deaths directly related to the alcohol consumption is very low, both mother and her baby risk facing other alcohol impacts: premature birth, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, problems with behavioral and intellectual development. Scientific data show that only total abstinence during pregnancy leads to zero risk. Moreover, there is no such thing as 'safe drinking', especially during pregnancy.

"Member states must find individual solutions to tackle the problem of pregnant drinking"

Public health is the matter of national competence. Therefore, member states must find individual solutions to tackle the problem of pregnant drinking. However, some good practices can be shared among member states. The information indicating prohibition of the alcohol consumption, displayed on the packing of alcohol in France can be given as one of such good practices.

It must be admitted that more uniform approach across the EU must be taken. This issue was dealt with in September, when I hosted the discussion in the European parliament, dedicated to the protection of the unborn baby from alcohol. In this event, the European commissioner responsible for public health, Tonio Borg stated that although the EU has only limited competence in health issues, this does not mean it will stay distant from this issue. The reform in the tobacco sector is a clear example for that. I expect European commission to keep its promises and introduce an EU-wide alcohol labeling system, aimed at deterring future mothers from any alcohol.

Moreover, wide information campaigns across EU and worldwide must be launched in order to deter pregnant drinking. It is important to raise awareness on the negative impact of alcohol consumption regardless of the amounts consumed during pregnancy.