Dr Jana Pittman is a three-time Olympian, mum-of-six, women’s health doctor – and recently became the first ambassador of the Every Moment Matters campaign.
For Jana, the campaign resonated with her not only as a health professional but also as a mum who found it tricky to find accurate advice on lifestyle changes during pregnancy.
“I was a mother before I was a doctor and really struggled to get the correct information around healthy habits in pregnancy,” she said. “During my first pregnancy, I had so many people telling me conflicting advice.
“So much misinformation exists that it’s hard to know what’s credible and current, and also what’s relevant to you at different points in time. That’s why when it comes to alcohol it’s really important for everyone to know it should be avoided when planning pregnancy and during pregnancy. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.
“We know more now than ever before about the very real risks of drinking alcohol in pregnancy, like low birth weight, pre-term birth and stillbirth.
“We also know that alcohol use during pregnancy can lead to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a lifelong disability.”
“By working with the team at FARE, I want to make sure women and those close to them can access clear, accurate information and work out a plan for being alcohol-free before and during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding.”
Highlighting the pressure on women in social settings, Jana reflected on her own experiences while pregnant, explaining the importance of the roles of friends, families and peers in supporting someone who is pregnant to be alcohol-free.
“I think we can feel we’ll be judged as rude if we decline a drink while pregnant, but that’s why it’s so important for the person asking you to take part in the drinking to be properly informed,” she said.
“I rarely drink, but still remember being at a friend’s baby shower, long before medical school, and the grandmother-to-be handed champagne to everyone – including several of us who were pregnant.
“One of the ladies said, ‘no not for me; I’m pregnant’ but the grandmother laughed gently and said, ‘oh, that’s an old wives’ tale – a few sips won’t hurt you!’ So she sipped it. Many felt pressured into following suit.
“It was a small amount, but it shows how much false information flies around and can seem convincing. Even last year, when I was pregnant with the twins, I remember being at an event and hearing a few ladies talking about ‘safe’ amounts to drink during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
“But there is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy, at any stage – which is why the National Health and Medical Research Council advises not to drink any alcohol.
“I hope that this campaign will give people a better understanding on why it’s important to support alcohol-free pregnancies.”
Jana explains that more needs to be done to highlight the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and while breastfeeding amongst all Australians.
“With all the misinformation still out there, I don’t think there’s a clear understanding amongst Aussies. It’s changing and certainly getting better but there’s still work to be done to make sure people are across the facts.
“It’s definitely not just an issue here – it’s common worldwide – but we have an opportunity to drive community-wide change. That’s what the Every Moment Matters campaign is all about.”
As a women’s health doctor, Jana recognises that health professionals play an important role in routinely asking people about their alcohol use, and providing support and referrals if needed.
“We need to ask these questions, early and often. In obstetrics, we have frameworks that prompt us to ask about alcohol and smoking at each visit, but we certainly don’t want patients to feel judged or shamed,” she said.
“We must have strategies to support women to speak openly in that protected space, and then also take the time to talk through the very real risks of drinking alcohol in pregnancy. We need to ensure health professionals have the resources and confidence to deliver the right messages.
“Thanks to Every Moment Matters, we now have access to an accredited e-Learning course to support these important conversations.”
Jana explains that we need to take a whole-of-community approach to supporting those who are on their pregnancy journey.
“We all have loved ones that may be pregnant or planning for pregnancy. I think offering support is really important. This can be as simple as providing non-alcoholic drinks at gatherings, planning activities where alcohol isn’t involved or offering back-up if someone is being pressured to drink alcohol at an event.
“You might choose to go alcohol-free in solidarity with your loved one or offer to be a support person at medical check-ups.
“The information, resources and strategies are there; we just need to spread the message about them far and wide.”