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Using animal models, scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago were able to reverse learning and memory deficits resulting from exposure to alcohol in utero. The scientists administered thyroxine (a hormone that is reduced in pregnant women who drink and in infants with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) or metformin (an insulin sensitizing drug that lowers blood sugar levels, which is higher in alcoholics) to rat pups exposed to alcohol in utero, in the 10 days immediately after they were born.  Based on these findings, they will conduct a clinical trial with pregnant women in South Africa.

Dr. Eva Redei, one of the scientists involved in the study believes that such options are necessary for women with alcohol use disorders, or those who drink before they know they are pregnant. In a recent newspaper interview, Dr. James Reynolds at Queen’s University in Canada said he doubts that this will be a cure for FASD, but that studies like this one could give us more clues as to how alcohol affects development.

Other important voices are community-based prenatal program providers and mothers of children with FASD who see that medical interventions, should they be found to be effective, are likely to be only a part of the picture, and that a range of prevention efforts will always be needed.

Whether or not learning and memory deficits can be reversed through hormonal and insulin interventions in the future, there are many other health deficits resulting from alcohol-exposed pregnancies that remain and that may not respond to this treatment ( ).

Consequently, even if this new clinical trial shows positive outcomes, FASD prevention efforts that support women’s decision making about alcohol use, and prevention efforts that influence the social determinants of women’s health will still be needed.

You can read more here:


How to discuss alcohol use with women of childbearing age is a topic in women’s health that is getting more attention and focus. Within FASD prevention circles, we have understood that women and their partners may not know about the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy or may drink before they realize they are pregnant.  Thus, they benefit from discussion of what they know, what the evidence says and options for action.

Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral (SBIR) has long been known as an approach to guide clinicians when assessing risky alcohol use. But is the SBIR model the best approach to discussing alcohol with women of childbearing age and their partners? What are the approaches currently used across Canada? How should we discuss alcohol with women and who should do it? What works best according to the evidence?

The Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health (CEWH), the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), and the University of British Columbia Midwifery Program have teamed up to answer these questions. The Dialogue to Action on Discussing Alcohol with Women project has three high-level objectives: to identify current approaches; to summarize and share the available evidence; and, to promote best practices.

Nancy Poole of CEWH and Audrey McFarlane of CanFASD and Lakeland Centre for FASD at the Dialogue to Action regional meeting in Edmonton.

In order to meet their first objective, project researchers are currently conducting 12 regional meetings across Canada with physicians, midwives, nurses, and service providers in, sexual health clinics, violence against women services, alcohol and drug services, and Indigenous health services.

They are learning what is already being done and sharing what is known about promising practices and existing resources that can guide discussions and referrals. Participants are suggesting resources and tools – such as webinars, guidelines, policies and programs – that will be helpful in conducting meaningful discussions and support in their communities with women who use legal substances – or soon to be legal, like cannabis.

One early emerging idea arising from this project is that “screening” may be currently placed in the wrong location in the mnemonic list of SBIR.  Starting with brief information sharing and support (the relationship first), followed by screening/referral can be more engaging, trauma-informed, collaborative and person-centred. The rearranged approach prioritizes eliciting and appreciating individual needs and perspectives.

So the list might become BISR or even BISBIRT – repeating the conversation about substance use and ideas for action after screening as well as before it.

Participants from a regional meeting in Winnipeg, MB, discuss approaches to discussing alcohol with women that are working in their communities.

This project is one of several projects addressing FASD in Canada being funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. You can learn more about all the projects here:

Read more:

Conversations on alcohol: Women, their partners, and professionals – April 23, 2017

Preconception Interventions: Trending or Mainstream? – July 21, 2016

Alcohol and FASD: It’s not just about women  – June 6, 2017



3rd in Series: First-ever FASD Prevention Plenary at the 7th International Conference on FASD: PART 2

“International Research on Discussing Alcohol with Women and Their Partners, and Empowering Professionals to Have These Conversations”: Tatiana Balachova, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center & Prevent FAS Research Group; Jocelynn Cook, Chief Scientific Officer for The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; Lisa Schölin, Consultant at WHO Regional Office for Europe – Alcohol, Illicit Drugs and Prison Health; Leana Oliver, CEO of FARR; Cheryl Tan, Health Scientist CDC

Research shows that building awareness and offering brief interventions can help women reduce alcohol-exposed pregnancies. For a variety of reasons, not all providers feel comfortable or confident in giving information or asking about alcohol use, and they may not be sure it makes a difference in preventing alcohol-exposed pregnancies. Consequently, researchers from around the world presented their findings at the 7th International FASD Conference Prevention Plenary. They discussed whether or not brief interventions work, and if they do, then which strategies work best.

Russian study picRussia – Positive Messaging Improves Knowledge and Action

Tatiana Balachova, PhD, and her research group conducted a 3-part study to develop, implement, and test a prevention program in Russia. They found that women in Russia most trusted their OB/GYN physicians, so they developed FASD educational materials and trained physicians to deliver prevention information in two face-to-face structured interventions. FASD brochures using positive messages and images improved women’s knowledge of FASD and reduced risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancies. As well, they found that women who received the intervention reduced their frequency of alcohol use – most quitting – during in pregnancy.

JOGC picCanada – Care/Service Provider Education is key

Jocelynn Cook, Chief Scientific Officer for The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) detailed the Vision 2020 strategies: advocacy, quality of care, education, and growing stronger. These strategies underpin their goals for care providers to focus on preconception as well as pregnancy, and deliver consistent messaging. In line with these goals. Alcohol Use and Pregnancy Consensus Clinical Guidelines that were first published by the SOGC in August 2010 were updated in 2016. The guidelines highlight the value of brief interventions and will be supported in the coming year with online education and training that recognizes “red flags” and provide best practices for supporting women’s health and engagement in discussions on potentially stigmatizing topics such as alcohol use.

who-coverWorld Health Organization – Prevalence Rates Inform Strategy

Lisa Schӧlin, consultant with the World Health Organization’s European office, described the data from Europe on alcohol consumption and drinking during pregnancy. The most recent prevalence data shows that Europe has the highest consumption rate of alcohol per capita of anywhere else in the world. As well, at 25.2%, it has the highest rate of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the highest rate of FAS (37.4 per 10,000). These data were published in a review of the evidence and case studies illustrating good practices and areas of European action called “Prevention of harm caused by alcohol exposure in pregnancy” – you can view or download here.

FARR picSouth Africa – Short Messages Can Build Awareness

Leana Oliver, CEO of Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR), explained how FARR builds upon existing health services by providing prenatal support, pregnancy planning and teaching of coping strategies to women through their programmes. Their “Do you have 3 Minutes?” campaign has been successful in building awareness within communities and in supporting prevention programmes (learn more here). As well, the FARR Training Academy offers accredited trainings and continued professional development on FASD to professionals, providers and educators. Research projects and FARR publications detail what has been learned such as the benefits of motivational interviewing and the need for preconception care and planning.

CDC picU.S. – Promoting Universal Screening and Brief Intervention

Cheryl Tan, Health Scientist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed FASD activities currently underway. Surveillance of alcohol consumption by women of reproductive age is ongoing alongside efforts by the CDC to promote universal screening and brief interventions (aSBI) of adults 18+ years. She noted the wide discrepancy between how often providers say they conduct SBI (85%) and how often patients say they receive it (25%). As well, as a partner of the Collaborative of Alcohol-free Pregnancy, the CDC is helping to change healthcare practice through high-impact projects: 1) implement interprofessional model for prevention of AEP; 2) provide evidence for aSBI to insurers in the US; and, 3) reduce stigma associated with drinking during pregnancy.

For more these topics see earlier posts:

First-ever FASD Prevention Plenary at the 7th International Conference on FASD, March 22, 2017
WHO Europe: Prevention of harm caused by alcohol exposure in pregnancy, December 22, 2016
“Supporting pregnant women who use alcohol or other drugs: A guide for primary health care professionals”, May 15, 2016
How do partners affect women’s alcohol use during pregnancy?, August 11, 2014
Empowering Conversations to Prevent Alcohol Exposed Pregnancies: Extended Learning Webinars, May 8, 2014
The Prevention Conversation Project – Free Webcast on January 21, 2015 (Alberta FASD Learning Series), December 15, 2014
Alcohol and Pregnancy campaign from Norway, December 12, 2011
FASD Prevention in Russia, February 15, 2012

Prevention Plenary Opening: Moira Plant and Nancy Poole introduce group from Australia

In 7 years, the FASD International Conference has grown to become a truly international event with presenters from six continents and from international health organizations such as the World Health Organization. Current research on clinical topics we’ve come to expect, like prevalence, diagnosis, and neurodevelopment outcomes, were featured this year along with newer topics like biomarkers and epigenetics (See some of the video recorded conference presentations here).

It was the emphasis on prevention, and stigma that took center stage for many attendees. For the first time, there was a specialized prevention plenary – “FASD Prevention Research – State of the Evidence, and Plans for a Global Network” – developed by Nancy Poole (CanFASD; Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health) and Moira Plant (Alcohol & Health Research Unit, University of West England).  Using a model of prevention research used worldwide that Nancy first presented in a poster in 2009, researchers, advocates and birth mothers from around the world talked about where we are and where we need to go.

Watch for upcoming blogs in the next weeks for details on specific prevention presentations.

Objectives for the Prevention Plenary

The Prevention Plenary was divided into 4 areas of presentation and discussion that we will cover in a few posts in the next weeks:

  1. Community-wide FASD prevention with Indigenous communities
  2. International research on discussing alcohol with all women and their partners, and empowering professionals to have these conversations
  3. Research on reaching and engaging women and children at highest risk using approaches that are theory based, and have an equity lens
  4. Plans for international FASD prevention research infrastructure


For posts on past International FASD conferences, see:

The 5th International Conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Special Session on FASD Prevention, January 14, 2013

Webcasts on 4th Annual International Conference

The World Health Organization’s regional office for Europe has published Prevention of harm caused by alcohol exposure in pregnancy: Rapid review and case studies from Member States.

who-coverIn this report it is stated that Europe has the highest level of alcohol consumption in the world, and that the gender gap in drinking, and in binge drinking, among young people has narrowed.

Looking over the past decade, the report features a review of 29 research studies and details current FASD prevention efforts of Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden. Studies included in the report were based on Recommendation 2 of the WHO Guidelines for the identification and management of substance use and substance use disorder in pregnancy, which calls for prevention of alcohol consumption in the general population of pregnant women through brief interventions. Consequently, the review excluded studies of alcohol-dependent women.

For women who may become pregnant, interventions related to both risky drinking and contraception were reviewed, such as CHOICES, EARLY and BALANCE.

For pregnant women, interventions to abstain from or reduce alcohol use, or to raise awareness were reviewed. Two of the studies with pregnant women included their partners and showed positive results regarding women reducing their drinking and partners supporting non-drinking.

Case studies of prevention efforts from the 8 profiled countries describe national awareness campaigns; screening and specialized treatment in clinical practice guidelines; national strategy/policy planning and implementation; and post-partum support including for those affected by FASD.   The report features a table that illustrates country-specific levels of FASD awareness, which can assist in developing focused strategies.

For more on related topics, see earlier blogs:







thunder-bay-report-coverAs part of the work of the Family Health Program, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit has published results from a research project on best practices to preventing alcohol-exposed pregnancy. Alongside reviewing literature, they looked at practices both in their health unit and among local community programs and services, and at provincial public health standards.

Seven over-arching themes were identified for a multi-pronged approach to preventing FASD:

1.  Population Health Surveillance
2. Public Awareness
3. Public Programs
4. Education for Health Care and Social Service Providers
5. Screening and Intervention by Health Care and Social Services Providers
6. Partnerships
7. Policy/Government Directives (1)

The report targets gaps to be addressed within each of these themes. As an example, within “Public Programs” there is a call to expand or develop programming that is culturally based and that includes women’s partners, and within “Education” to replace generalized training and education with approaches that target specific provider needs.

The authors caution readers not to “dilute the alcohol and pregnancy focus” when incorporating recommendations into existing service structures, and stress that additional research and evidence of programming, policy, and partnerships is needed.

Download the full report here to read more about their research methods, findings and recommendations, and to explore linkages with the Ontario Public Health Standards for reproductive health.

  1. Thunder Bay District Health Unit, Family Health Program. (2016). Effective interventions and strategies to prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies. Thunder Bay, ON.

The College of New Caledonia (CNC) has developed a FASD-informed training curriculum to support their FASD informed guide and in response to the expressed needs of three national programs supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) that focus on healthy birth outcomes and healthy outcomes for children.

FASD Trauma Informed guide“Facilitating a Collaborative, Strength-based Approach to FASD Informed Practice:  Western Region BC” was developed following consultations with workers in The Community Action Program for Children (CAPC), the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP), and Aboriginal Head Start (AHS in BC). Workers and administrators wanted help in adjusting their practice of working with women, children and families to include FASD-informed approaches.

These trainings were delivered on-site to approximately 350 people during 2014-2016. Developed by Anne Guarasci and Barb Durban with funding from PHAC, the curriculum, in the form of PowerPoint presentations, has been refined for distribution and consists of three separate presentations each with a particular focus, but all include a primer on FASD including current diagnostic terminology.

1. “Supporting Marginalized Parents who may have FASD” — This presentation focuses on what causes FASD, how it is diagnosed, and who is at risk; the complex nature of prevention and why a holistic, relational approach is required; behavioural and cognitive cues that may indicate FASD; and, the fundamentals of an FASD-informed practice.

Empower guide2. “Strategies and Structures for Supporting Marginalized Women and Families who may have FASD” — Participants explore practices and communication skills that empower and support clients and build relationships; examine individual and agency perceptions, policies and structures in order to reduce barriers to relationship and services for clients; and, develop FASD-specific communication strategies. Client “compliance” issues are re-examined within the context of brain functioning. FASD diagnostic terminology and pathways to access assessment and diagnosis are reviewed.

3. “FASD Prevention” — Using a FASD-informed approach as described in CNC guides (1,2) and the work of Deb Rutman (3), this training builds on the 4 levels of prevention of FASD in Canada (4): awareness and health promotion; brief counseling with women and girls of childbearing age; specialized prenatal support; and postpartum support.  How FASD-informed and trauma-informed approaches overlap is explored along with many strategies for working with women, including those who may have FASD, such as building relationships and reducing barriers through reflective practice, Motivational Interviewing, harm reduction, and individualized services.

The FASD-informed practice training curricula is intended for training of program coordinators and administrators, new frontline workers and seasoned workers who may benefit from a refresher. A year-long evaluation of the training was conducted by Deborah Rutman, and the results will be available for presentation in this blog space, in the next few months.

For more about FASD-informed work, see earlier posts:


  1. Guarasci, Anne (2013). FASD Informed Practice for Community Based Programs. Burns Lake, BC: College of New Caledonia – Lakes District Campus.
  2. Guarasci, Anne (2011). Empowering Front-Line Staff and Families Through a Collection of Lived Experiences: Supporting Women Who Have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Behaviours and Characteristics and/or Other Related Disabilities. Burns Lake, BC: College of New Caledonia – Lake District Campus.
  3. Rutman, D. (2011). Substance using women with FASD and FASD prevention: Voices of women with FASD: Promising approaches in substance use treatment and care for women with FASD. Victoria, BC: University of Victoria.
  4. Poole, Nancy A. (2008). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Prevention: Canadian Perspectives. Public Health Agency of Canada: Ottawa, ON.



This new resource from the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia, is designed for all primary health care professions who see women in a broad range of health care service settings during the course of their practice.

The best practices guide builds on the evidence for providing coordinated, supportive and comprehensive care to pregnant women who use substances by providing a model for reducing the harm from alcohol and substance for women and their babies. See page 12 of this guide for a clearly charted overview of how physicians and other health care practitioners can support withdrawal, do psycho-social and nutritional interventions, and address barriers to care for pregnant women.

The model acknowledges the interconnections that impact a woman’s use of substances during pregnancy – including domestic violence, mental health, smoking, and stigma – and provides a guide for identifying risk and next steps for further assessment, support and/or treatment. See page 9 for a view of how identification differs for women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or not planning a pregnancy.

It also moves beyond normal referral and coordination practices by using a holistic assessment process and designating a case coordinator or clinical lead to ensure “assertive follow-up.” Assertive follow-up consists of: making sure women are supported during pregnancy and birth; keeping mothers and their babies in the hospital so that post-birth assessments for mother and child can be done and plans for support and services are in place; providing breastfeeding, safe sleeping, parenting skills and contraception support; as well as, interfacing with partners, family members, and community agencies in support of the woman and her child.  See page 16 for more discussion on assertive follow-up and pages 19-20 for “Addressing barriers to care”.

Although the extensive resources that are included in this guide are geared for practitioners in Australia, many of them provide topic-specific information that practitioners everywhere may find helpful. See pages 24-27 for website links.

For more on screening in primary care settings, see previous posts:

For more on FASD prevention in Australia, see previous posts:






FASD Conference 2

Marsha Wilson, Nancy Poole and Dorothy Badry at the 7th National Biennial Conference on Adolescents and Adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Session E3: Developments in Prevention of FASD – The Work of the Can FASD Prevention Network Action Team

At the 7th National Biennial Conference on Adolescents and Adults with FASD in Vancouver on April 9, 2016, Nancy Poole and Dorothy Badry described the work of CanFASD’s Prevention Network Action Team (pNAT).  They provided examples of the pNAT’s work on:

  1. Network building – Sharing expertise and skills through a network of researchers, policy analysts, clinicians, community-based service providers and advocates dedicated to FASD prevention
  2. Research – Building multidisciplinary research teams, developing research proposals, and conducting research
  3. Collaborative knowledge exchange – Developing and implementing strategies for moving “research into action” such as through workshops, curricula development for health and social service professionals, and policy analysis
  4. Influencing policy and service provision  Guiding service and policy improvements with governments and communities

Given the conference focus on adolescents and adults with FASD, the 2011 research led by pNAT member Deborah Rutman on prevention with girls and women with FASD and substance use problems was highlighted.   Treatment and support with girls and women who live with FASD is one of the least researched areas of FASD prevention.

A list of FASD prevention resource materials developed by pNAT members was provided. Reports and infographics that summarize research, and thereby support research-to-practice and -policy are included below.


7th National Biennial Conference on Adolescents and Adults with FASD

Research on prevention with girls and women with FASD

CanFASD  – description of the pNAT

FASD Prevention Resources Spring 2016

FASD Resources


Project CHOICES is a program in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that works with girls and women of any age who are not currently pregnant, drink alcohol, and are sexually active. The goal of the program is to reduce the risk of an alcohol-exposed pregnancy through choosing healthy behaviours around alcohol and birth control use.

This infographic summarizes changes for participants three months after completing the program.

Project CHOICES is based on motivational interviewing which is a counseling approach that is respectful, non-judgmental and client-centred. Motivational interviewing allows health care providers and clients to explore possible areas of change, discuss strategies that make sense for the client and their life circumstances, and provides encouragement and support.

The program considers three different routes to reducing the risk of an alcohol-exposed pregnancy: (1) reducing alcohol use (2) using effective contraception (3) reducing alcohol use and using effective contraception.

Learn more about the evaluation from Healthy Child Manitoba. Check out the program website to learn more about the program, how to make a referral, and for resources on alcohol, pregnancy and birth control.

word on the street

Overview: Four Levels of FASD Prevention

Information Sheet: What Men Can Do To Prevent FASD