CHILDREN exposed to alcohol in the womb are at risk of low birth weight, abnormal facial features, heart defects, behavioural problems and intellectual disability, a researcher has warned.
Prue Walker, who presented her paper to a foetal alcohol spectrum disorder conference in Brisbane yesterday, warned alcohol abuse among parents was a serious health hazard.
Her study, which examined the files of 230 children involved with the child protection system in 2011-12, found one in five had been exposed to alcohol before birth.
This rose to two in five for children ordered into care by the court.
There were seven deaths among the 230 children, with a mother's harmful alcohol use identified in six of the cases.
"This is not just a health issue but a social issue that affects the long-term welfare of children," Ms Walker said.
The Hunter Medical Research Institute's Amy Anderson told the conference her research had found eight out of 10 pregnant women indulged in alcohol despite guidelines advising otherwise.
Australian guidelines on alcohol intake during pregnancy were revised in 2009 to a strictly no-alcohol policy.
A University of Newcastle team had begun research on the subject in 2001 and had recently expanded the project to include 2009 data, she said.
"Women were more likely to drink under the low-alcohol guidelines as opposed to the no-alcohol guidelines, which suggests a no-drinking message should be maintained."
The advice to not drink during pregnancy was something that Merewether resident Karen Bambach followed during her pregnancy with son Cooper Whitehorn, now 13 months.
Ms Bambach said she didn't drink before falling pregnant anyway.
"I wasn't a drinker in the first place and I didn't drink during my pregnancy," she said yesterday.
"I just thought it wasn't healthy for me or my baby."
■ AUSTRALIAN scientists appear to have disproved a theory that a caesarean delivery protects children from cerebral palsy.
Their study of more than 1.5million births shows no link between the mode of delivery and children born with the condition.
The findings, to be published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, show the risk of cerebral palsy is not lowered by either elective caesarean or emergency caesarean during labour.
‘‘The causes of cerebral palsy must lie elsewhere,’’ said lead author Dr Michael O’Callaghan of the University of Adelaide’s Australian collaborative cerebral palsy research group.