On the ninth day of the ninth month of the year, the world will remember that during the nine months of pregnancy a woman should abstain from drinking alcohol.

You might want to take some time today to learn more about FASD and what’s happening in your community to address FASD.

I’ve pasted the answers to some of the Frequently Asked Questions from an FASD Toolkit created by the BC Ministries of Children and Family Development and Healthy Living Services, BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, and the Public Health Agency of Canada below. They cover some key points that might be helpful in starting a conversation about FASD with someone today.

I’ve also added a new link on the blog called “FASD Prevention 101” which lists key Canadian resources on preventing FASD (the link is at the top of the page). You can also find this list on the Healthy Choices in Pregnancy web site.

What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term used to describe the range of disabilities that can affect people whose are exposed to alcohol prenatally. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause brain damage in a developing fetus, resulting in lifelong problems with attention, memory, reasoning and judgment. Pre-natal exposure to alcohol can also result in physical disabilities such as vision and hearing problems, slow growth, heart problems and bones that are not properly formed. There is great variability in the characteristics of those affected by FASD, depending on such factors as the amount and timing of the mother’s drinking, mother’s nutrition and overall health, as well as genetic factors.

How big a problem is FASD? How many people are affected in Canada?

It is estimated that every year, approximately 3000 babies are born in Canada with FASD. We do not know the exact numbers of people living with FASD as FASD is not always diagnosed, and we are still developing adequate resources to
ensure individuals receive diagnosis and supports.

What has been proven to be effective in the prevention of FASD?

FASD can be prevented! Preventing FASD starts by increasing awareness of the harmful effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Communities can work together to ensure that all women receive support with pregnancy planning, are able to find alternatives to alcohol use during pregnancy, and have access to prenatal care. Some women may need extra support to cut back on their drinking. For these women, addictions treatment services that are easy to access, and which provide respectful and holistic care are key. And, after the baby is born, mothers may need support and advocacy to continue with the healthy changes they made during pregnancy.

What are the economic and social costs of FASD?

FASD can have many health, social, and economic costs, for the individual, their families, health and social service systems and communities. For families the extra costs for medical and other treatments are estimated to be approximately $24,000 a year. It is estimated that the costs per individual over their lifetime for services can be over 1 million dollars. While many individuals with FASD lead fulfilling lives, many also have trouble with the law, drop out of school, have difficulties keeping a job, develop mental health problems, or become homeless.

What can communities do to help prevent FASD?

Communities can help prevent FASD in a number of ways, especially by helping to spread the word that it is safest not to drink during pregnancy. Friends and family members can all help a pregnant woman not to drink during pregnancy. If you work with women, learn about services in your community that can support women in avoiding alcohol use during pregnancy. Health care and social service providers can talk openly and supportively with women about drinking alcohol if they are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and where to find support in they need assistance with avoiding alcohol during pregnancy. Bars can provide fun and tasty nonalcoholic options on their menu and liquor stores can hang posters with information about FASD.

How do I respond to people who say they have heard that it is okay for a woman to drink when she is pregnant?

Heavy drinking during pregnancy (either binge drinking or chronic use of alcohol) is clearly the most likely to cause harm to the fetus, as well as to a woman’s health. While very low levels of drinking such as one drink a week is unlikely to
cause harm, it is not possible to know a safe level of drinking for any particular woman. We do know that alcohol can be harmful to fetal development, which is why health professionals recommend that it is safest not to drink during pregnancy.