New guidelines to reduce the health risks associated with alcohol have been released just as the festive season kicks off in Australia.
Dr Ju-Lee Oei, visiting neonatologist at Murrumbidgee Local Health District said that despite it being well known that alcohol consumption harms unborn babies, it still occurs in Australia.
"One in two Australian women will drink while they are pregnant or lactating," Dr Oei said.
"The trouble with alcohol in a lot of societies is that alcohol is a part of life. So it is very hard to avoid drinking as it's considered a benign activity.
"It's so much a part of our culture that it's hard to imagine it causing harm."
Alcohol is the only substance of dependency that is a known fetal toxin said Dr Oei, which means that out of other drugs that are assumed to be more dangerous to babies, like cocaine and heroine, alcohol is the only drug that has been shown to harm the developing baby in the womb.
"No level of drinking is safe during pregnancy and abstaining for the nine months or while breastfeeding is not much to ask for the rest of the baby's life," Dr Oei said.
"Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the largest preventable cause of intellectual disability in the world."
Abstaining from alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the simplest way of preventing many future challenges for regional women and their children if alcohol related development issues arise says Dr Oei.
"The best centre for FASD help is the Cicada team at Westmead Children's hospital in Sydney," she said.
"Their waiting list is absolutely inundated and the trouble is that if you have kids in Griffith, to get them seen and assessed in Sydney is a lengthy and costly process."
The National Health and Medical Research Council also recommends healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than four on any one day.
The new guidelines, which replace the previous version published in 2009, are the result of four years of extensive review of the evidence on the harms and benefits of drinking alcohol.
"We're not telling Australians how much to drink," says Professor Anne Kelso, CEO of NHMRC.
"We're providing advice about the health risks so that we can all make informed decisions in our daily lives."