KRG wants health board to adopt a “zero-tolerance” for drinking by pregnant women

Health board says “pregnant women should be encouraged to decrease their alcohol consumption”

By JANE GEORGE

Dr. Serge Déry, Nunavik's director of public health, speaks to Kativik Regional Government councillors Nov. 30 at their meeting in Kuujjuaq. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)


Dr. Serge Déry, Nunavik’s director of public health, speaks to Kativik Regional Government councillors Nov. 30 at their meeting in Kuujjuaq. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

KUUJJUAQ — Women in Nunavik should not drink when they are pregnant.

That’s the clear position of counsellors at the Kativik Regional Government.

“Pregnant women shouldn’t drink at all,” said Siasi Smiler, the regional counsellor for Inukjuak, reacting Nov. 30 to a presentation by public health director Dr. Serge Déry at the KRG meeting in Kuujjuaq.

“Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a well-known risk factor for child development… pregnant women should be encouraged to decrease their alcohol consumption, if not total abstaining,” Déry said.

Déry told the councillors that the Nunavik regional health board adopted this position because studies have shown it’s so hard for pregnant women who drink to completely stop that they don’t try at all to cut down.

“At least if you can decrease, any decrease would be better for your kids,” he said.

However, the health board did support a more direct public health message on the combination of smoking and pregnancy.

“There is a need to encourage women to consider quitting smoking during pregnancy and to support those making this decision,” said Déry, due to the association between smoking during pregnancy low birth weight and the effects of smoking on child behaviour.

The health board decided to toughen the no-smoking message during pregnancy because there are smoking cessation counselors available to help pregnant women who want to quit smoking.

But there’s no similar support in place for pregnant women who want to stop drinking.

Maggie Emudluk, chairperson of KRG, said the health board was sending the wrong message to Nunavik women “who are not different” from women elsewhere in the world.

Pregnant women everywhere are advised not to drink, she said.

“We have to encourage the public to say that pregnant women shouldn’t drink,” Emudluk said.

The health board statement “is too weak for me,” she said.

A recent study by Laval university health researcher Gina Muckle shows smoking and drinking remain common among pregnant women in Nunavik, with more than a third of women binge-drinking at some point during their pregnancy.

Her study found:

• 92 per cent of the women reported smoking;

• 61 per cent reported drinking during pregnancy;

• episodes of binging during pregnancy were reported by 62 per cent of the drinkers, which corresponds to 38 per cent of pregnant women;

• 36 per cent reported using marijuana during pregnancy; and,

• distress and violence after childbirth were more likely to be experienced by women who used alcohol during pregnancy.

“Alcohol is a major risk factor to maternal and child health in this population, underscoring the need for culturally relevant and effective prevention programs,” the study concluded.

KRG councillors said they want to see the health board support a “zero-tolerance” consumption of alcohol for pregnant women in Nunavik.

They said because there’s no safe limit of alcohol for pregnant women, the best message is to advise them to stop drinking.

And they asked Déry to go back to the health board and ask for a revision of its official public health message on drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

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