Prevention of FASD through Preconception Conversations

In our work on FASD prevention, reaching women on the topic of the effects of alcohol use before they are pregnant is a much needed component. Yet when offering a continuum of perinatal and reproductive care, our health care systems usually do not make preconception health a priority. It is indeed a challenge to promote critical thinking about alcohol use in pregnancy when women a) are not yet actively planning a pregnancy,  b) are unaware, misinformed or unconcerned about of the effects of alcohol, or c) are acutely aware of the stigma associated with drinking alcohol in pregnancy and resistant to hearing the message.

In a recent article for the UK journal, International Journal of Birth and Parent Education, we described what is known about empowering and effective preconception health interventions, to catalyse and support the work of health care practitioners working with women of childbearing years.

We entitled the article “Beyond Screening” as it is important to enter discussions about alcohol use in pregnancy as conversations that reduce stigma and support critical thinking about alcohol use before, during, and after pregnancy.

In a section of the article entitled “Issues and Actions Needed” we offered 8 key considerations when offering preconception education and support on substance use issues:

  1. moving beyond screening – Asking about what women know about effects of substance use in pregnancy and what their plans are, may be more engaging and helpful to open conversations, rather than starting with formal screening questions
  2. reducing stigma – By naming how stigma and fears of judgement may be a barrier, health care providers can build an open relationship with women that facilitates safety and empowerment
  3. involving women – In the context of substance use by women overall, and in pregnancy, where judgement, bias, discrimination, misinformation and stigma are rampant, it is particularly important to involve women respectfully and collaboratively in defining what works for them
  4. involving men/partners– Involving partners in preconception and prenatal care, messaging, and support can be an important strategy for reducing the weight of pregnancy planning for women, and for improving overall health.
  5. using technology – Web-based support on substance use issues is increasingly available to extend the reach and engagement by the public in early and accessible assistance. Sharing where such information is available, supports the seeking of assistance in an anonymous and self determining way
  6. building on practitioner wisdom and relationships – Motivational Interviewing and other evidence informed practices are already being used by many practitioners for guiding conversations on substance use that are trauma informed, harm reduction oriented and strengths based. These approaches are highly relevant in conversations about substance use before, during and following pregnancy, and can be best ‘heard’ in conversations with trusted providers. 
  7. multi-tasking – The benefits and reach of dual focus preconception interventions (that involve discussion of substance use with other health issues) are important. Integrating discussion of how alcohol may be a factor linked with nutrition, mental wellness, prevention of intimate partner violence and/or housing can be helpful, and respectful of women’s interests.
  8. embedding preconception conversations in multiple systems of care – It is vital that preconception care be well integrated in health, social, and community care, with many types of practitioners all playing a role.

We are appreciative of being asked to revisit what we know about preconception interventions, and see it as important for everyone to ask of their communities and countries:

  • Who is doing preconception interventions on alcohol and other substance use?
  • In what additional contexts can preconception health and substance use issues be raised?
  • How can we promote gender and other forms of equity as we are doing preconception interventions on substance use?
  • What does each practitioner need to support action on this level of FASD prevention?

Preconception Care to Optimize Health

Harm reduction and health promotion for women and their partners before conception are key to FASD prevention [1]. Providing health information and supports during the preconception period provides an opportunity for men and women to actively plan for a healthy pregnancy and learn strategies such as healthy nutrition, supplementation, and reducing alcohol and other substance use [2]. Such education and support can contribute greatly to optimizing health and preventing FASD [3].

Around the world, there are examples of unique approaches to preventing alcohol exposed pregnancies. Some interventions are geared towards women and men separately, and others are gender synchronized, creating complimentary programs for men, women, boys, and girls. Interventions may also include both members of a couple and include training for healthcare professionals.

Credit: Pretestie Bestie campaign.

Websites, such as Healthy Families BC and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada have pages offer information about alcohol use during pregnancy and clear and concise steps to consider before becoming pregnant. The recent ThinkFASD website sponsored by the CanFASD Research Network offers advice both for couples who are consciously planning a pregnancy, and those who are drinking and having unprotected sex. Other websites are interactive, such as Alberta Health Services’ Ready or Not, which allows a woman to click through different resources and prompts based on whether or not she feels ready to become pregnant. Don’t Know? Don’t Drink is a creative campaign in New Zealand, which posts fun, engaging graphics and videos to their social media platforms with messages about using contraception and supporting friends to not drink if there’s a chance they might be pregnant. The campaign caters to younger girls and encourages finding a “Pretestie Bestie”, a friend who supports you and your decision making before getting a pregnancy test, as a strategy of FASD prevention.

Interventions in the preconception period are not limited to women. Paternal drinking can impact men’s safety, sperm health, fetal/infant health, and women’s ability to reduce their alcohol use [4]. Various programs have been geared towards men’s education about contraception options, reproductive health, and how to support partners in their efforts to reduce drinking before and during pregnancy. Project Alpha is an American collaboration aimed at educating boys age 12 to 15 about fatherhood, contraception, healthy relationships, and sexuality.

MenCare+ empowers men to be active and positive participants in their own health as well as the health of their partners and children.  It has been implemented in Brazil, Indonesia, Rwanda, and South Africa and has been shown to reduce intimate partner violence in its participants, which is an important contributing factor to women’s substance use during pregnancy [5]. In addition to programming for men, MenCare also offers workshops and training for healthcare professionals on engaging men in maternal and child health.

The internet has been a preferred source of information when it comes to preconception [6] and for couples who know they want to have children, web-based interventions are helpful tools. The UK’s Smarter Pregnancy program helps couples build a profile through an online health assessment and then offers evidence-based recommendations based on their profile. A similar approach is taken by HealthyMoms and HealthyDads complimentary websites, which were created after asking expectant moms and dads what  information and supports they need to prepare for parenthood.

Culturally safe and non-judgemental interventions have been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of alcohol exposed pregnancies [7]. In the US, CHOICES and Amor Y Salud are interventions geared towards Indigenous and Latinx communities. CHOICES educates non-pregnant at-risk women about contraceptive options and uses motivational interviewing to support women to reduce drinking. Amor Y Salud, available through the Oregon Health Authority Website, offers a radionovela that follows a young couple as they learn how to optimize their health and prepare for future children. In Canada, Best Start’s website has a page for Indigenous prenatal health with information and resources that integrates Indigenous knowledge with Western health information. They also provide resources, such as Planning for Change, to support healthcare providers in educating their patients about FASD and supporting them in making meaningful changes.

The variety of preconception education and support approaches illustrates opportunities for incorporating these initiatives across the various levels of reproductive health. Childbearing years span four decades for women and are longer for men, and interventions have and can continue to focus on those that are planning or not yet planning a pregnancy, as well as for those in the period before a pregnancy is confirmed. When such preconception and early pregnancy supports are well incorporated throughout the healthcare system, this key component of FASD prevention can be realized.

1. Network Action Team on FASD Prevention. (2010). Consensus on 10 fundamental components of FASD prevention from a women’s health determinants perspective. Canada Northwest FASD Research Network.

2. The Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health. (2016). Preconception Interventions Alcohol and Contraception Example. Schmidt, R., Hemsing, N., & Poole, N. Retrieved from http://en.beststart.org/sites/en.beststart.org/files/u4/PC3-Preconception-Interventions-Poole.pdf

3. Webb, Shelby, and Diane Foley. “An Introduction to the Optimal Health Model for Family Planning Clinicians.” National Clinical Training Center for Family Planning, 17 Feb. 2020, http://www.ctcfp.org/optimal-health-podcast/.

4. McBride, N. and S. Johnson, Fathers’ role in alcohol-exposed pregnancies: Systematic review of human studies. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2016

5. Alhusen JL, Ray E, Sharps P, Bullock L. Intimate partner violence during pregnancy: maternal and neonatal outcomes. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2015 Jan;24(1):100-6. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2014.4872. Epub 2014 Sep 29. PMID: 25265285; PMCID: PMC4361157.

6. Da Costa D, Zelkowitz P, Bailey K, Cruz R, Bernard JC, Dasgupta K, Lowensteyn I, Khalifé S. Results of a Needs Assessment to Guide the Development of a Website to Enhance Emotional Wellness and Healthy Behaviors During Pregnancy. J Perinat Educ. 2015;24(4):213-24. doi: 10.1891/1058-1243.24.4.213. PMID: 26834443; PMCID: PMC4718007.

7. Hanson, J., & Pourier, S. (2015). The Oglala Sioux Tribe CHOICES Program: Modifying an Existing Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancy Intervention for Use in an American Indian Community. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(1), 1. doi:10.3390/ijerph13010001


Innu Approaches to Supporting Pregnancy and Birthing

Examples of Holistic FASD Prevention in Practice

Developing specialized, culturally safe, and holistic support for pregnant women is an important strategy in preventing FASD [1]. In Labrador, Thea Penashue and June Fry of the Innu Roundtable Secretariat are bringing Innu midwifery and parenting back to Sheshatshiu and Mushuau Innu First Nations through two initiatives.

Centering Pregnancy was introduced in Sheshatshiu in 2018 to increase access to and use of primary prenatal care. The project was born from dialogues between the Innu Round Table Secretariat, Innu Health Directors, the Regional Health Board, physicians, and public health nurses. Centering Pregnancy is a group pregnancy outreach program where women can access prenatal group education, health assessments, and social support. The program promotes relationship-building by allowing participants to bring supports with them to the group sessions and encouraging discussion and bonding between women within the program. Expectant mothers have autonomy and control in their care in addition to support from a health care worker [2].

The Innu Midwifery Project aims to reintroduce traditional midwifery to Sheshatshiu and Natuashish, drawing on Innu Elders’ knowledge of Innu birthing practices. The project is being done in collaboration with Gisela Becker, the Chief Midwife for Newfoundland and Labrador, to support the training Innu midwives using a culturally-specific, hands-on, individually paced learning approach. Reintroducing midwifery to the Innu First Nations will result in Innu children being born on Innu lands, fostering a greater connection to the land and culture, continuation of cultural practices and culturally safe care, and empowering women in the context of their pregnancy.

Credit: “A Guide to the Innu Care Approach” from the Innu Round Table Secretariat website [5].

These initiatives create a safer environment for Innu women to discuss their health. Based in and driven by the communities and culture, these programs are centered around women, their families, and the communities [3].

Thea Penashue, the Community Wellness Systems Navigator at the Innu Round Table Secretariat, delivered her second child in a tshuap, a traditional Innu tent, in September. She hopes that, through the Midwifery project and Centering Pregnancy program, more Innu women will be able to give birth in a tshuap, connecting to their land, culture, and sense of self as Innu people, in the company of their loved ones [4].

Credit “A Guide to the Innu Care Approach” from the Innu Round Table Secretariat website [5].

1. Canada FASD Research Network’s Action Team on FASD Prevention from a Women’s Health Determinants Perspective, 2013. PREVENTION Of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) A Multi-Level Model. [online] Available at: <https://canfasd.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/PREVENTION-of-Fetal-Alcohol-Spectrum-Disorder-FASD-A-multi-level-model.pdf&gt; [Accessed 24 September 2020].

2. Centering Healthcare Institute. n.d. Centering Pregnancy | Centering Healthcare Institute. [online] Available at: <https://www.centeringhealthcare.org/what-we-do/centering-pregnancy&gt; [Accessed 24 September 2020].

3. Network Action Team on FASD prevention, 2010. Consensus Statement On 10 Fundamental Components Of FASD Prevention From A Women’S Health Determinants Perspective. [online] Canada Northwest FASD Research Network. Available at: <https://canfasd.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/ConsensusStatement.pdf&gt; [Accessed 24 September 2020].

4. CBC, 2020. This Mom Is Bringing Back An Innu Tradition, By Giving Birth In A Tent To Connect With Her Roots. [online] Available at: <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/penashue-tent-birth-1.5713780&gt; [Accessed 24 September 2020].

5. Innu Round Table Secretariat, 2017. A Guide To The Innu Care Approach. [online] Available at: <http://www.irtsec.ca/2016/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/A-Guide-to-the-Innu-Care-Approach-Dec-2017.pdf&gt; [Accessed 24 September 2020].

Discussing alcohol use with women – does the SBIR model need rearranging?

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: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/news/2017/05/fetal_alcohol_spectrumdisorderincanadanewprojectfunding1.html

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

 

 

Conversations on alcohol: Women, their partners, and professionals

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

Preconception Interventions – Trending or Mainstream?

FASD Annotated Bibliography, Part 2

2015-12-Life-of-Pix-free-stock-photos-city-distributors-newspapers-AlexisDoyenIt seems more attention is being brought to preconception health and its role in FASD prevention.  We have known about the value of preconception intervention for many years. The Project CHOICES Research Group described positive intervention results using Motivational Interviewing in 2003 [1]. Yet now attention to the preconception period seems to be “trending.”

Preconception intervention has been discussed all along (we were asking about it in a landmark study in the ‘90s[2]), but the recent actions like U.S. CDC recommendations and Yukon’s placement of pregnancy tests in bars are certainly highlighting preconception alcohol use and health behaviours. The current Annotated Bibliography of articles published on FASD prevention seems to bear this recent focus out:., there were a total of five articles on preconception efforts in the 2013 list; and in articles published in 2015, that number has doubled.

In the latest annotated list, Landeen et al. says that the “fetal origin of disease theory” provides the rationale for providing preconception interventions[3]. Johnson et al. describe the development and dissemination of the CHOICES model[4] and its successful adaptation in a variety of settings. Hanson et al. have written three articles that expand on the work they did adapting and implementing a CHOICES program with the Oglala Sioux Tribe in the U.S.[5-7]. Analyses by Hussein et al.[8], Mitra et al.[9] and Oza-Frank et al.[10] suggest that preconception interventions must be tailored if they are to be successful. McBride stresses the need for preconception counseling for men, as substance use during pregnancy is not solely a decision made by women or under their control [11].

2015 Bibliography
2015 FASD Prevention Bibliography

Members of the pNAT are currently undertaking a review of the literature on preconception interventions and formulating recommendations for a national research agenda. They will present some of these recommendations at the research meeting in August at the University of Regina (See www.canfasd.ca for more info on this meeting).

In keeping with our understanding of multiple forms of evidence, we are interested in knowing what you are seeing and hearing about preconception interventions on alcohol. Has preconception intervention been a part of your practice for a while? Who is funded to provide it in your location? What has worked, and how has it worked, in your experience?

For further reading on preconception interventions, see earlier postings:

Alcohol and FASD: It’s not just about women, June 6, 2016
FASD Prevention needs to begin before pregnancy: Findings from the US National Survey on Family Growth, May 20, 2015
Global Trends in Unintended Pregnancy: Implications for FASD Prevention, October 13, 2014
Impact Evaluation of the Healthy, Empowered and Resilient (H.E.R.) Pregnancy Program in Edmonton, Alberta, February 7, 2014
FASD Prevention in Nova Scotia, April 25, 2013
The Sacred Journey – new resource for service providers who work with First Nations families, August 1, 2012
FASD Prevention in Russia, February 15, 2012
New book: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Management and Policy Perspectives of FASD, Jan 6, 2011


REFERENCES/SUGGESTED READING

  1. Reducing the risk of alcohol-exposed pregnancies: A study of a motivational intervention in community settings. Pediatrics, 2003. 111(Supplement 1): p. 1131-1135.
  2. Astley, S.J., et al., Fetal Alcohol Syndrome primary prevention through FAS Diagnosis II, A comprehensive profile of 80 birth mothers of children with FAS Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2000. 35(5): p. 509-519.
  3. Landeen, L.B., R. Bogue, and M. Schuneman, Preconception and prenatal care–useful tools for providers of women’s health. South Dakota Medicine: The Journal Of The South Dakota State Medical Association, 2015. Spec No: p. 36-43.
  4. Johnson, S.K., M.M. Velasquez, and K. von Sternberg, CHOICES: An empirically supported intervention for preventing alcohol-exposed pregnancy in community settings. Research on Social Work Practice, 2015. 25(4): p. 488-492.
  5. Hanson, J.D., K. Ingersoll, and S. Pourier, Development and implementation of choices group to reduce drinking, improve contraception, and prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies in American Indian women. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 2015.
  6. Hanson, J. and J. Jensen, Importance of Social Support in Preventing Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancies with American Indian Communities. Journal of Community Health, 2015. 40(1): p. 138-146 9p.
  7. Hanson, J.D. and S. Pourier, The Oglala Sioux Tribe CHOICES Program: Modifying an Existing Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancy Intervention for Use in an American Indian Community. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 2015. 13(1).
  8. Hussein, N., J. Kai, and N. Qureshi, The effects of preconception interventions on improving reproductive health and pregnancy outcomes in primary care: A systematic review. The European Journal Of General Practice, 2015: p. 1-11.
  9. Mitra, M., et al., Disparities in adverse preconception risk factors between women with and without disabilities. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 2015.
  10. Oza-Frank, R., et al., Provision of specific preconception care messages and associated maternal health behaviors before and during pregnancy. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2015. 212(3): p. 372.e1-372.e8.
  11. McBride, N., Paternal involvement in alcohol exposure during pre-conception and pregnancy. Australian Nursing & Midwifery Journal, 2015. 22(10): p. 51-51.

Alcohol and FASD: It’s not just about women

man drinking with family

For over 25 years, there have been studies seeking to understand if paternal drinking affects fetal and infant health and FASD in particular. Finding that 75% of children born with FASD had fathers who were alcoholics, Abel et al. conducted a number of animal studies that described negative effects from paternal alcohol consumption but without clear or satisfactory links to humans [1]. Consequently, FASD prevention programs have primarily focused on pregnant women, where the evidence was certain, and treated paternal drinking as largely a risk factor for maternal drinking rather than a risk factor for FASD itself.

Now, with advances in epigenetic research, two recent analyses of studies are showing that paternal factors, and alcohol use, in particular, play a larger role in fetal/child health than just passing along genes. Each study analysis systematically reviewed findings about the role of paternal alcohol consumption on conception, pregnancy, and fetal and infant health. One analysis used a paternal-alcohol consumption lens, while the other used a birth-defect lens. These results provide evidence to expand prevention efforts to men, especially in the preconception period, and to continue research in the field of epigenetics and alcohol-exposed pregnancy. (To learn about epigenetics click here.)

The first review by McBride and Johnson looked at 150 research studies and distilled them down to 11 good-quality studies. The associated effects of paternal drinking fell into three themes: impact on maternal drinking, sperm health, and fetal/infant health. Two studies showed an association between low levels of paternal drinking with lowered sperm count, as well as underdeveloped sperm leading to conception problems and miscarriage. Seven studies showed an increased risk of miscarriage when men drank 10 drinks or more per week in the preconception period, and one study found an association of all cases of ventricle malformation (heart defect) with daily paternal alcohol consumption during the preconception period [2].

The second study review by Day and Savani et al. focused on birth defects and links to paternal alcohol consumption, age and environmental factors. The authors explore the evidence for how these factors impact sperm DNA and, therefore, how the developing cells of an embryo “read” and “express” genetic instructions. For example, genes that are normally “silenced” may be “activated”. Paternal alcohol consumption epigenetically impacts the “gene expression governing individual organ development” that can adversely affect fetal development, in the immediate instance and in future generations [3]. Deficiencies in brain size, heart formation, and cognitive and motor abilities (noted as being symptoms of FASD) were linked to paternal alcohol use even when there was no maternal alcohol consumption.

Both of these study analyses contend that more research is needed in order to understand the full impact of alcohol and epigenetics, and the interplay between maternal and paternal factors. Still, this latest research supports the need for health promotion policies and practices that address men’s alcohol use, not only as an influence on women’s alcohol use, and to benefit men’s health, but also for its potential adverse effect on fetal/child health.

For more on men and FASD prevention, see earlier posts:

REFERENCES/SUGGESTED READING

Abel, E., Paternal contribution to fetal alcohol syndrome. Addiction Biology, 2004. 9(2): p. 127-133. (Link here)

McBride, N. and S. Johnson, Fathers’ role in alcohol-exposed pregnancies: Systematic review of human studies. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Article in Press.

Day, J., et al., Influence of paternal preconception exposures on their offspring: Through epigentics to phenotype. American Journal of Stem Cells, 2016. 5(1): p. 11-18.