In most African societies, many people still hold the view that smoking or drinking alcohol can control stress. Women too subscribe to this school of thinking.
Women, especially those in the rural areas drink alcohol as a medicine to ‘kill’ boredom or stress they under go in their families.
Joseline Mukangwiza, a woman counselor in Rwamagana, eastern province echoes the same sentiments.
"Most women do smoke and drink because it makes them forget about the problems," says Mukangwiza.
"When they become pregnant, it gets worse" Mukangwiza adds in an interview with ‘The New Times’ last week.
The habit goes beyond the village setting and some vivid cases are seen in Kigali. Frodie Mbabazi, a counselor and midwife at the Kabgayi health centre says that many pregnant women take alcohol in order to forget domestic violence rocking their families.
"They end up being addicted and when pregnancy comes, they fail to avoid the smoking," Mbabazi adds.
Mbabazi however, complains that alcohol can cause stomach ulcers and swelling of the pancreas which is associated with pneumonia to a pregnant woman. She advises mothers to avoid over drinking because it causes social problems such as violence too, in marriage.
Counselors against alcohol are needed because too many women underestimate the risks involved, especially to a baby.
She adds that, research found out that 9% of pregnant women drink above recommended levels.
On a positive note, however, medical practitioners in Rwamagana have already started seminars along with expecting mothers. The seminars are aimed at stamping out smoking and drinking habits especially among the expecting mothers.
For pregnant mothers, Dr.Joseph Nsanzebona says the habit can be disastrous especially during delivery and there after.
"Alcohol addiction is a common phenomenon here today, so physicians need to take a balanced, non judgmental approach to encourage discussions and exchange of ideas so as to prevent and stop alcohol use," Nsanzebona explains.
Sensitization can be done by highlighting negative outcomes of any alcohol drinking, while pregnant. However, the approach should not be drastic since it could scare away other people who are in need of such help.
"It is generally important that physicians who care for women before and during pregnancy have an important role in assessing alcohol use, by providing them with timely advice and counseling," he says.
He was quick nonetheless, to highlight that counseling procedures are so demanding in terms of human resource and capital.
"Most hospitals must have enough midwives, doctors and resources to develop the required skills and materials", complained the Doctor.
Alcohol affects a woman’s health because most of the alcohol is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream through the walls of the stomach and intestine.
Because it is absorbed directly, the effects of alcohol can be felt very fast. Alcohol is a depressant that slows the activity of the nervous system and thus contributing to a depressed emotional state in the long run.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is also associated with higher rates of miscarriage, premature birth, complications during birth, and low birth weight. These babies have a higher risk of death at birth and in the weeks soon after. They are also at higher risk of serious complications and illness, including breathing disorders, as newborns.
Presently, the new guidance given is stronger and clearer. The advice is simple; avoid alcohol when pregnant or trying to conceive.