A NORTH-EAST consultant has voiced fears that women are drinking too much in pregnancy – resulting in a huge hidden population of damaged children.

It follows a survey of the drinking habits of mums-to-be which suggests hundreds of babies born every year in the region suffer from Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

FAS is thought to be the biggest known cause of learning disability in children, and yet is completely preventable.

Dr Shonag Mackenzie, a consultant obstetrician at Wansbeck General Hospital in Ashington, Northumberland, said: “Since July, we’ve been asking mothers-to-be in more detail about their drinking habits and it’s alarming what has come out of those questionnaires.”

“Many potential problem drinkers have been identified and are being referred to a specialist clinic. These women simply didn’t realise they were drinking too much and the potential harm they were doing to their unborn babies.”

Drinking two glasses of alcohol a night “can be devastating to the foetus”, said Dr Mackenzie, who is one of the key speakers at a conference near Durham City organised by Balance – the North East Alcohol Office – today.

It is a curtain-raiser to national Alcohol Awareness Week, which starts next Monday.

“You wouldn’t give a newborn baby a glass of wine in its bottle but that’s essentially what you’re doing if you drink when pregnant,” she said.

One North-East mother who drank alcohol during pregnancy told The Northern Echo about her terrible guilt after her behaviour damaged her daughter’s development.

Her daughter, now in her late teens, is impulsive, has a poor level of concentration and finds relationships difficult.

She said: “I feel guilty that many of her problems stem from my alcohol misuse during pregnancy.

More needs to be done to raise awareness and it all goes back to eduction. It should start in schools.”

The woman now helps other women with alcohol problems, attending meetings and support groups.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “There is no safe limit when it comes to alcohol and pregnancy and experts say that abstinence is the only safe policy for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

“Alcohol misuse is damaging lives across our region.

The North-East has the highest rate of under- 18 hospital admissions in England and more than half of all violent crime is linked to alcohol.”