You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Perinatal Support’ category.

Research has shown that everyone has a role to play in preventing FASD and that positive messaging is most effective for promoting awareness and discussion of alcohol use during pregnancy. Understanding positive messaging can help avoid the unintended negative consequences we have seen from previous efforts. Prevention-positive principles include:

  • Using non-exploitative imagery. Prevention campaigns are replacing lone naked-belly images with those that emphasize the mother-child dyad within a supportive network.
  • Respectful messaging that encourages women to access help if they need it rather than fear-based or blaming messaging like “if you loved your baby, you wouldn’t drink.”
  • Linking to where information and help is available.
  • Not describing FASD as “100% preventable” as this may lead women to think that the system of care won’t welcome them if they have already consumed alcohol in pregnancy.

Here are some recent examples of prevention-positive efforts from across Canada.


The Yukon FASD Interagency Advisory Committee is taking a prevention-positive approach with their “Alcohol-free is supportive” campaign. It consists of posters in English and French, ads in the local theatres, online ads, and a radio ad as featured on CKRW. Below is an example of one poster with plans for others in the coming months. Partners in this project are the Yukon Government, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of the Yukon (FASSY), and Child Development Centre.

Yukon FASD Interagency Advisory Committee


Women can sign up to do a “Dry 9” and receive a t-shirt and emails of support during their pregnancy. The Dry 9 movement encourages others to support women who decide not to drink any alcohol during their pregnancy. Short videos on topics such as the “Persistent Friend”, “Co-Parent to Be”, and the “Previous Generation” can be shared with others. The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission launched the Dry 9 movement last December as part of DrinkSense.



The Saskatchewan Prevention Institute focused on positive partner support in their “This is why I supported her not to drink” campaign. The information card is available as a poster and there are also versions in Dene and Cree. Learn more about partner influence and support on their “How To Help” page

Saskatchewan Prevention Institute


Health professionals in Québec City will use printable pamphlets to have discussions with women and their partners about alcohol and pregnancy. Besides information on alcohol and FASD, the pamphlets, published with the help of Public Heath Agency of Canada, describe fetal development, and resources and support. Link to brochures and posters can be found on the Dispensaire Diététique de Montréal site.

Montreal Diet Dispensary and the Public Health Agency of Canada


Having discussions about alcohol and birth control with all women of childbearing age and their partners has proven to be an effective FASD prevention strategy. This FASD ONE prevention poster aims to encourage health and social service providers to have discussions and to support a universal screening approach.


For previous posts about other prevention campaigns, see:










The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) in British Columbia is exploring a partnership approach to developing a community-based FASD prevention strategy in the Fraser Salish region.

Inspired by the Marulu Strategy in the Fitzroy Valley of Western Australia and the work of other Indigenous communities in Canada, the FNHA Community Wellness Support team brought together individuals and organizations working in health care, child welfare, early childhood development, community wellness and other related areas for a one-day meeting on December 1, 2017. The meeting was held on the on the traditional territory of the Musqueam people.

The meeting began with an opening prayer and welcome from a Musqueam Elder. In the morning, participants learned about the successful Family Empowerment Team in the Stó:lō Nation (the Stó:lō traditional territory extends from Yale to Langley, BC). The program is based on the Parent Child Assistance Program (PCAP) model developed by Therese Grant at the University of Washington in 1991 which has been shown to an effective approach to preventing FASD.

The Family Empowerment Team has built upon the PCAP model to develop a holistic and culturally relevant approach to FASD prevention in the Stó:lō Nation. Meeting attendees had the unique opportunity to hear from a woman who has participated in the program and to hear how the program has supported her and her family to reach her goals.

In the afternoon, members of Alberta’s Parent-Child Assistance Program Council shared their experiences of working with and supporting over 30 PCAP programs in Alberta and how different agencies, groups, and government departments have collaborated in developing a 10-year provincial strategy to address FASD.

For more on these topics, see these earlier posts:

Alberta Parent-Child Assistance Program Quilt, December 8, 2014

Films from the Lililwan Project: Tristan and Marulu, May 9, 2012

FASD Mentoring Programs in Canada, December 7, 2011


Sheway is well-known in Canada for its success in providing wrap-around services for pregnant and newly parenting women who are dealing with complex personal and social circumstances. It is trauma-informed, women-centred, culturally responsive and uses a harm reduction approach with a focus on connection with self and others. Women and their children can remain in the program up to 18 months post-partum. Last December, Lenora Marcellus, University of Victoria, and Sheway published findings to their study on how women make the transition from Sheway to living on their own – Supporting Families at Sheway and Beyond. Additionally, Dr. Marcellus has published a journal article:

Marcellus, L. (2017). A grounded theory of mothering in the early years for women recovering from substance use. Journal of Family Nursing. E-print ahead of press. 

In order to learn what elements of a positive transition could be identified and built upon, they followed 18 women for 3 years after leaving Sheway. These women faced multiple obstacles in this transition process with the overarching theme being “holding it together.” Their daily efforts are explored in these 3 ways:

Download Sheway Report

Restoring Self: gaining recovery and taking care of self, reconnecting with self and others, and rebuilding trust and credibility.

Centering Family: parenting their children, preserving a routine, dealing with partners, and handling custody issues.

Creating  Home: “chasing housing”, having to take whatever housing is available even if inadequate, and maintaining not only a physical space but a feeling of home for the family

While acknowledging the value for pregnancy and postpartum support as most often provided in maternity programs, their findings underscore that secure housing is a key component to a successful transition for women and their families. Yet, although housing is important to the overall health of women and their families, the choices they must make often result in a double bind. For example, women often are faced with choosing between affordable housing that is far from supports versus more expensive housing that is near supports. Some women must choose between staying in an unsafe relationship or losing housing. As well, some women must accept inadequate housing because of their substance use history, which serves to undermine their recovery and their maintaining custody of their children.

“Poor housing was identified by women as a potential trigger to relapse in their recovery.” – [1] p. 39

Complete findings are detailed within the report and recommendations are framed within the Levels of Prevention model developed by this prevention network.  Among the research team recommendations is to extend the time women can stay in the program in order to solidify recovery, supports and resources. As well, they stress that housing needs to be a core component of intensive, integrated maternity programs.

For more on these topics, see earlier posts:


  1. Marcellus, L., Supporting families at Sheway and beyond: Self, recovery, family home. 2016, Sheway: Vancouver, BC.


4th in Series: First-ever FASD Prevention Plenary at the 7th International Conference on FASD: PART 3

“Research on Reaching and Engaging Women and Children using Approaches that are Theory Based, and have an Equity Lens” – Janet Christie, Addiction Recovery Coach, Canada; Anne Russell of the Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders, Australia; Pippa Williams of UK and European Mothers Network-FASD; Margaret Leslie and Dr. Mary Motz of the Mothercraft/Breaking the Cycle, Canada

L to R: Janet Christie, Anne Russell, Pippa Williams, Margaret Leslie, Dr. Mary Motz with Dr. Nancy Poole, Prevention Plenary Co-Lead

One of the highlights of the first Plenary on Prevention at the 2017 International Conference on FASD, was the presentation on supporting women and families dealing with issues of alcohol and FASD.

Janet Christie, Anne Russell and Pippa Williams are three birth mothers who have created supports for women and families dealing with issues of alcohol or FASD. Their experiences have informed and are reflected in many reports and studies: that no woman intends to harm her child; that there are multiple and complex issues that affect women at risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancies; and, that fragmented and inflexible services make it difficult for women and families to get help.

Stigma is one of the biggest barriers affecting access to services. Addiction is still viewed by many as a moral failing rather than a public health issue. Meanwhile the alcohol industry normalizes and glamourizes drinking to women through targeted marketing campaigns. Women are often met with judgement and blame, and fear losing their children if they seek help for an addiction. As well, mothers whose children have FASD need support in dealing with their feelings of guilt and with parenting their children. Often women have complex and intersecting issues, including FASD, that affect their ability to accept support. While these three mothers/advocates are from different countries, they all identify these same issues, and call for programs with wrap-around services to support women and their families.

Margaret Leslie and Dr. Mary Motz then described such a program – Breaking the Cycle in Toronto and its mother-child study “Focus on Relationships”. Based upon well-researched attachment theory, the program focuses on the mother-child dyad during the pre- and post-partum period and on building trust, safety and relational capacity. Relationships extend to staff and service providers. Program efforts to develop collaborative relationships between child welfare, addiction recovery and mental health service agencies have successfully created an integrated and flexible program with the goal of supporting the whole family.


For more on these topics, see earlier posts:

The Mother-Child Study: Evaluating Treatments for Substance-Using Women, March 18, 2015
Supporting Pregnant and Parenting Women Who Use Substances: What Communities are Doing to Help, October 1, 2012
Herway Home ‘One-Stop Access’ Program in Victoria Set to Open, May 20, 2012
“New Choices” for Pregnant and Parenting Women with Addictions, January 9, 2012
Toronto Centre for Substance Use in Pregnancy (T-CUP), December 19, 2011
Clinical Webcast on Breaking the Cycle Program: September 20, 2011, August 2, 2011
Why Would She Drink? Winnipeg Free Press Articles Explore Drinking during Pregnancy, April 4, 2011

2nd in Series: First-ever FASD Prevention Plenary at the 7th International Conference on FASD: PART 1

“Evidence for multi-faceted, culturally relevant, community-led approaches” – Dr. James Fitzpatrick, Head, and Kaashifah Bruce, Program Manager of Telethon Kids Institute’s FASD Research; June Councillor, CEO of Wirraka Maya Aboriginal Health Services; Anne Russell, Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders Association

Making FASD History newsletter

The “Make FASD History in the Pilbara” program in Western Australia is the result of community-led and culturally relevant efforts within Indigenous communities dealing with the effects of long-term colonization and FASD. It was developed in collaboration and partnership with communities in the Fitzroy Valley and provides strategies and programs to assess and diagnose FASD, as well as to provide health, educational, and management supports to mothers and children.

James Fitzpatrick described earlier successes that underpin this program – like the Lilliwan prevalence project, the PATCHES program to diagnose FASD, and the Marlu Strategy for prevention and intervention (See Video). Dr. Fitzpatrick was nominated in 2016 for the WA Australian of the Year award for his work on FASD.

June Councillor explained the role of the “’Warajanga Marnti Warrarnja” Project – translation Together We Walk This Country – in the strategy and its long-term approach. She featured a video of the project in her remarks. View the program launch Video here.

Kaashifah Bruce presented evaluation results of using this multi-pronged approach that show an increase in: 1) awareness of FASD and the harms caused by drinking in pregnancy; 2) intentions to NOT drink during future pregnancies; and, 3) intentions to help pregnant women not to drink. The encouraging results suggest that this community-led, multi-strategy approach can serve as a blueprint for success in other Aboriginal communities.

LtoR: June Councillor, Anne Russell, Kaashifah Bruce, and James Kirkpatrick


Finally, Anne Russell provided a lived-experience viewpoint with examples of how stigma and stereotyping impede prevention efforts. By describing her own as well as other women’s experiences, she underscored how important it is to avoid stereotypes about women and drinking, and to talk with women and communities about what they need and what is important to them.

For more on FASD prevention in Western Australia, see earlier posts:

Alcohol Think Again Campaign in Western Australia (June 19, 2012)

Films from the Lililwan Project: Tristan and Marulu (May 9, 2012)

FASD Campaign from Kimberley and Pilbara Regions of Western Australia (October 22, 2012)

FASD Prevention in Australia’s Ord Valley (October 13, 2011)

Targeting Health Professionals in Western Australia (February 9, 2011)

Getting Fathers Involved (January 4, 2011)

More Activism from Australia (October 19, 2011)

Yajilarra: the story of the women of Fitzroy Crossing (October 15, 2010)

FASD Initiatives in Western Australia (September 15, 2010)


FASD Prevention: An Annotated Bibliography of Articles Published in 2015 organizes articles based on the four levels of prevention. 2015 BibliographyWe’ve been featuring some of those articles and in this post we narrow in on Level 3 FASD prevention efforts – specialized holistic support available to pregnant women with alcohol and other health or social problems. Following are a few of the bibliography articles with that research focus.

Two studies from South Africa underscore the interconnections of alcohol use in pregnancy and the benefits of integrated and holistic services for pregnant women. A large study done in Cape Town, randomly assigned all pregnant women in 24 low-income neighbourhoods either to standard care or to a home-visiting intervention. In total over 1,000 mothers were assessed during pregnancy and at 18 and 36 months post-partum with positive findings for those receiving the home-visiting intervention. 4-levels-fasd-preventionThe authors find that a significant relationship exists over time between alcohol use, partner violence and depression, and they recommend integrated interventions [1]. Similarly, a case management intervention for 67 pregnant women using Motivational Interviewing, Community Reinforcement Approach and life management reduced heavy drinking in pregnancy [2].

Marcellus, MacKinnon et al. through their work with the HerWay program in BC, Canada, “reenvision” success when working with pregnant women with problematic substance use. They identify a holistic range of indicators for success, not only for program participants, but for service providers, community partners and system leaders [3]. This kind of harm-reduction model is getting more attention in the USA. Kramlich & Kronk reviewed six such programs over the last 10 years and conclude that “comprehensive, integrated multidisciplinary services for pregnant women with substance use disorder aimed at harm reduction are showing positive results.”[4]

Torchalla, Linden et al. conducted interviews in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, Canada, with 27 pregnant or post-partum women seeking harm-reduction services. They found that multiple forms of trauma were pervasive, ongoing, and reinforced in most areas of the women’s lives. Yet, most of the women did not want trauma-specific counseling when offered it. This underscores, according to the authors, the need for multi-focused, trauma-informed, harm-reduction interventions that broaden their focus to include gender-based violence and human rights [5].

Whitaker provides an overview of the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on substance use during pregnancy [6]. The author identifies some of the limitations of the guidelines including effectiveness of varying treatment approaches, knowledge gaps, and ethical issues, yet calls the guidance essential reading for practitioners working with women, children and families where substance use is involved.

Findings show that relational, holistic/integrated, and trauma-informed approaches are effective ways to support substance using women and their families. Yet, training, education and support of practitioners who work with them are vital. Additionally, more research in a number of specific areas is needed.

Find out more about these journal articles as well as articles for all four levels of FASD prevention in The Annotated Bibliography.


  1. Rotheram-Borus, M.J., et al., Alcohol use, partner violence, and depression: A cluster randomized controlled trial among urban South African mothers over 3 years. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2015. 49(5): p. 715-725.
  2. de Vries, M.M., et al., Indicated Prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in South Africa: Effectiveness of Case Management. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 2015. 13(1).
  3. Marcellus, L., et al., Reenvisioning success for programs supporting pregnant women with problematic substance use. Qualitative Health Research, 2015. 25(4): p. 500-512.
  4. Kramlich, D. and R. Kronk, Relational care for perinatal substance use: A systematic review. MCN, the American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, 2015. 40(5): p. 320-326.
  5. Torchalla, I., et al., “Like a lots happened with my whole childhood”: violence, trauma, and addiction in pregnant and postpartum women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Harm Reduction Journal, 2015. 12(1): p. 1-10.
  6. Whittaker, A., Guidelines for the Identification and Management of Substance Use and Substance Use Disorders in Pregnancy. Drug & Alcohol Review, 2015. 34(3): p. 340-341.

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.

New Zealand has published an action plan on how best to address FASD. Described as a “whole of government action plan” by Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne, Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: 2016-1019 builds on the best practices being done across communities and service sectors including government policy and partnerships, as well as front line prevention and intervention. According to Fetal Alcohol Network NZ, the government is earmarking an initial 12 million for these efforts, which will increase support and services to women with alcohol and substance use issues.

New Zealand began the process of building the action plan with a discussion document of principles, priorities and action areas. They spent over a year seeking submissions and comments on the plan from professionals, communities, families and whānau (Maori extended family.)  Notable changes to the principles based on those submissions included issues of ethnic and services inequities, as well as stigmatization of women, families and individuals with FASD. The resulting principles defined the core priorities of the plan: prevention, early identification, support and evidence. These priorities framed its action building blocks and designated indications of success of plan outcomes. You can view an analysis of the Ministry of Health action plan submissions here.

By underscoring a collaborative and practical approach, the goal is to make sure that “FASD is prevented and people with FASD and their family/whānau live the best possible lives.”(1) Read more about New Zealand’s efforts:

To read more about New Zealand’s prevention efforts see these previous posts:

First FEBFAST and Debates about Alcohol Labeling in New Zealand, February 1, 2011


  1. FASD Working Group. 2016. Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: 2016–2019: An action plan. Wellington, NZ: Ministry of Health.




For the last four years, HerWay Home in Victoria, BC, has been providing outreach, medical and social services to pregnant and parenting women with difficult lives in a one-stop supportive environment. On June 23 from 9:00-10:00 a.m. PST, there will be a free webinar to share the results of a first-phase evaluation of HerWay.

Deborah Rutman and Carol Hubberstey of Nota Bene Consulting, and Nancy Poole of BC Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health will discuss lessons learned and promising practices, and lead a discussion on working with pregnant and parenting women affected by substance use, violence and mental health issues. With its child-focused, women-centred and family focused approach, HerWay Home encourages positive parenting and healthy outcomes for children and women.

Click here for more information and register by June 20th at

To learn more about HerWay home and similar programs, see these previous postings:



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:





Overview: Four Levels of FASD Prevention

Information Sheet: What Men Can Do To Prevent FASD