Prevention Conversation: A Shared Responsibility

Click here to listen to the blog (2:47).

The Prevention Conversation is an online training program for health and social service providers to increase their knowledge about alcohol and other substance use in pregnancy and provide them with the skills to have safe and impactful conversations with women and people of child-bearing age and their support networks. The Prevention Conversation recognizes that these conversations are central to ensuring that families and communities know about the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and feel supported in sharing the responsibility to reduce the harms of alcohol.

In Autumn 2022, the Canada FASD Research Network released an updated version of the online course to reflect the most recent research on FASD prevention and best meet the needs of diverse communities who are accessing prevention resources.

The updated course:

  • Features best practice and updated evidence, wisdom, and language around alcohol use in pregnancy;
  • Includes new modules on stigma reduction, alcohol and women’s health, and cultural safety and humility;
  • Incorporates reflection questions that encourage course takers to reflect on how they can support women and people in the childbearing years in their local context and with the resources available to them;
  • Includes new resources and content to support a range of practitioners working in different practice settings; and,
  • Incorporates diverse peoples and knowledge systems through the addition of new content and artwork from Indigenous artists across Turtle Island. Art pieces from Indigenous artists, such as Cody Houle (see below), introduce every module, as a way to honour Indigenous knowledge systems and capture the spiritual, relational, and emotional connections to the modules. 
“Surrounded by Love” by Cody Houle introduces Module 5: Raising Awareness and Stigma Reduction. You can find his description of the piece in the online course.

The updated course follows the Four-Part Model of FASD Prevention to provide formative knowledge about alcohol and women’s health, FASD prevention and healthy beginnings, stigma reduction, cultural safety and humility, and trauma-informed practice. These modules can further facilitate open, respectful and non-judgemental conversations with women and their partners by a range of health and social service providers.

The Prevention Conversation is available online through the CanFASD e-store or can be delivered in-person in Alberta through the Prevention Conversation.

Every Moment Matters – An evidence-based FASD prevention campaign for Australia

Click here to listen to the blog (3:54).

Every Moment Matters is a nation-wide health promotion campaign launched in Australia which shares the latest evidence-based information about alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding. See www.everymomentmatters.org.au/.

The messages

The messages about alcohol use in pregnancy and FASD include:

  • Every moment matters when it comes to alcohol – whether you are planning a pregnancy, currently pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Planning a pregnancy is an exciting time. It’s also a great opportunity to go alcohol-free. Make the moment you start trying the moment to stop drinking alcohol.
    • The “planning a pregnancy” section includes
      • information about how alcohol affects fertility, the risk for miscarriage, and how the placenta is not a barrier to alcohol
      • ideas for action, when sharing information with friends, and finding help
  • All parents want to give their baby the best start in life, which is why it’s important not to drink any alcohol during pregnancy.
    • The “currently pregnant” section includes
      • information about how alcohol passes directly to the developing baby and can damage their brain, body and organs (FASD)
      • ideas for action to garner support from partners friends and family and for talking to a doctor, midwife or obstetrician
  • When breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for the health of your baby.
    • The “when breastfeeding” section includes
      • information about how alcohol enters breastmilk, noting how when there is alcohol in one’s blood, it is also in their breastmilk
      • strategies to avoid exposure when a choice is made to drink alcohol while breastfeeding

All sections of the website contain many helpful facts about alcohol and pregnancy and breastfeeding, how women can make a change in alcohol use, and how to support someone who is pregnant or planning a pregnancy. And there are links to a multitude of resources: www.everymomentmatters.org.au/resources/

The underlying research

This campaign has the most solid background research of any undertaken to date. The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) commissioned research to ground the campaign that involved:

  • A literature review and review of previous campaigns implemented in countries around the world, in order to establish best practice approaches to a campaign such as this.
  • Research to understand attitudes, perceptions of risk, and understanding of the issues by people in Australia, to identify potentially effective messages and framing of messages. This research included women who were pregnant, planning a pregnancy (in the next 2 years) or who might become pregnant, through an online survey, virtual focus group discussions, online journey mapping forums and virtual in-depth interviews.

Very comprehensive findings from this research guided the creation and testing of messaging for the campaign so that the messages would ‘grab attention’, contain information that was personally relevant to various segments of the population and be persuasive so that women would avoid alcohol during pregnancy.

Learn more about the research and its impact

The sponsors of the campaign, FARE, are hosting a webinar on Dec 8th (in Australia) entitled Behind the Scenes of Every Moment Matters where they will explore some of the key elements of this ground-breaking national health promotion campaign. Members of the campaign team will share insights into the formative research, message testing, creative approach, media strategy, engagement of health professionals in the campaign, and its impact to date.

This event is for people working in health promotion, public health policy, social marketing, the alcohol and other drugs sector, behaviour change, or evaluation design. 

See https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/behind-the-scenes-of-every-moment-matters-tickets-439430427237

FASD AWARENESS DAY 2022

It’s International FASD Awareness Day on September 9. We have now recognized this Day for over 20 years and it is heartening to see how many organizations and communities across Canada are now offering events and sharing resources that both honour the strengths of those with the disability and build awareness of the risks of drinking alcohol in pregnancy. One notable addition to this year’s events is that many landmarks and monuments across Canada will be lit up in red as part of CanFASD’s campaign, which focuses this year on building strengths and abilities.

As a part of our work to raise awareness about FASD prevention, we have updated an infographic about what we know about alcohol and pregnancy. It is based both in research and in the multi-level work of national, provincial, and local organizations working on FASD prevention. It points to:

  • How women both deserve and benefit from information and support when making decisions about drinking before and during pregnancy.
  • How reducing stigma about drinking is one key way of opening up the possibilities for women to access the information and support they need.
  • How service providers have a prime responsibility in FASD prevention by:
    • Sharing informational materials, working collaboratively, and supporting connections to needed supports.
    • Engaging in non-judgemental and encouraging conversations about alcohol and associated risks.
    • Linking women to community-based programs that offer holistic support on alcohol use, other aspects of health, and practical needs.

The infographic offers links to excellent resources developed by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute, organizations offering culture driven programming in 7 Indigenous communities, and the Co-Creating Evidence Project’s research on wraparound programming. The Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health is grateful to the CanFASD Research Network for providing the funding that affords us opportunity to bring attention to these FASD prevention efforts in Canada in this way. 

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


More evidence that judging pregnant women’s behaviour is counterproductive

A few of our Prevention Network (pNAT) members recently spotted an online article entitled “Demonising smoking and drinking in pregnancy may lead women to do it in private, says study.” Read the online article about the study here.

This study from the University of Cardiff in Wales has confirmed what most women’s health advocates know – that judging pregnant women for behaviours that may negatively affect fetal and child health, did not cause them to stop, but instead caused them avoid public and professional scrutiny, and to use in private. Women felt judged by healthcare professionals for their smoking and poverty, which made interactions with health care providers awkward. (See journal article on the study here.)

In the research 10 low-income, pregnant women in Wales were asked to “tell their stories” including how pregnancy affects their everyday life. Although smoking was discussed extensively by the women, interviewers did not raise the topic during the interviews. As part of their stories, women described their smoking behaviours, and reactions from the public, family, friends, and health care providers.

  

Liberation: Helping Women Quit Smoking
  
Doorways to Conversation

This study underscores what we know about substance use prevention in general – shame and stigma are not solutions to helping people change use, and specifically that the judgement of health professionals is tied to not accessing the support that is needed and deserved. In that way, the professionals become part of the problem instead of the solution. Evidence has established that using non-judgmental approaches are key to supporting behaviour change. These approaches emphasise harm reduction and employ collaborative and empathic conversations that respect individuals’ self determination and understand the underlying issues of substance use problems. Further to collaborative conversations, it is critical to understand substance use, and challenges to change substance use, as related to the burdens of violence and poverty faced by women – this forces us to move beyond a focus on individual behaviour and instead to action for social justice on these conditions of women’s lives.

Collaborative Approaches for Health Care Professionals
Indigenous Approaches to FASD Prevention
Mothercraft Study: “A Focus on Relationships”

The pNAT has written extensively about the importance of non-judgmental Level 2 discussions with women and their partners about alcohol, other substance use and the determinants of health that affect use. Included here are some resources that can help practitioners to engage in those discussions with women in a way that builds connection and relationship and supports movement toward positive change in alcohol and tobacco use, and related health and social concerns. As well, practitioners can connect to local pregnancy and addictions support programs to learn what community action to address stigma and promote social justice is underway.

References

Weinberger, A. H., Platt, J., Esan, H., Galea, S., Erlich, D., & Goodwin, R. D. (2017). Cigarette Smoking is Associated with Increased Risk of Substance Use Disorder Relapse: A Nationally Representative, Prospective Longitudinal Investigation. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 78(2), e152-e160.

See earlier posts

LINKING CANNABIS USE WITH ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO November 13, 2018
NEW RESOURCES FOR COLLABORATIVE CONVERSATIONS ON SUBSTANCE USE WITH GIRLS AND WOMEN June 18, 2018
REACHING AND ENGAGING WOMEN: WHAT WORKS AND WHAT’S NEEDED May 15, 2017
TARGETING STIGMA AND FASD IN MANITOBA June 26, 2017
ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES AND ALCOHOL USE DURING PREGNANCY August 18, 2015
BRIEF INTERVENTIONS TO DECREASE ALCOHOL MISUSE IN WOMEN November 26, 2013
LET’S START A CONVERSATION ABOUT HEALTH . . . AND NOT TALK ABOUT HEALTH CARE AT ALL June 23, 2011

Using e-technology to support maternal-child health

The Hope Project app
With most everyone having a smartphone these days, people are using apps to support their health. There are a few apps directed to pregnant women about their substance use and mental health. Some recent efforts developed together by researchers and health providers show how these apps can be used to offer focused information and support to pregnant women.

A perinatal mental health research project in Alberta, The Hope Project, is exploring how e-technology can be used to support pregnant women with mental health concerns. Dr. Dawn Kingston and her team at the University of Calgary developed an app for screening and treating pregnant women experiencing anxiety and depression. It provides information, support, and help to women in the research study whenever they need it. The project will also look at how this intervention affects post-partum depression and the health of their children.

SmartMom Canada, was developed as part of a study from the University of British Columbia. Through text messaging, Optimal Birth BC provides women in Northern BC with prenatal education endorsed by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC). Many of these women live in rural areas and may have limited access to prenatal care. Women who enroll in the study complete a confidential survey and then receive personalized text messages that include pregnancy tips, info on health topics, and available resources in their own community.

SmartMom Canada app
Women outside of these studies may find it challenging to find similar apps. Popular pregnancy apps do not offer much info or ideas for resources for women with mental health or substance use issues. One that has been positively evaluated is Text4baby in the U.S. The sponsors partner with national, state, and private organizations and offer local resource information in some states. Also available to Spanish speakers, an evaluation of the app can be found here.

As well, apps are being targeted to health care providers on improving the care they provide. A preconception care app available to physicians provides them with information from the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative and makes suggestions for responding to patient questions. Research is being done on using an app to provide motivational interviewing interventions to pregnant women who use substances.

Most apps available on smartphones are directed toward the general population and seek a large user base. Mental health apps and substance use apps that might support prevention, are not designed specifically for women, pregnant or not. And most pregnancy apps focus on fetal growth and “kick counters”, the woman’s weight and blood pressure, and checklists to get ready for a child.

So, while there is an app for everything, they may not an app for everyone. However, healthcare technology is growing at a fast pace, so hopefully we will see more apps in future that can expand FASD prevention efforts.

Related topics:

TEXT4BABY PROGRAM IN THE UNITED STATES: CAN TEXT MESSAGING BE AN EFFECTIVE ALCOHOL BRIEF INTERVENTION? February 2, 2015

HEALTHY PREGNANCY, HEALTHY BABY TEXT MESSAGING SERVICE IN TANZANIA December 17, 2013

Linking cannabis use with alcohol and tobacco

Because alcohol and tobacco have long been legal substances, there is a lot of evidence about their use during the preconception, pregnancy and perinatal periods. With the legalization of cannabis in Canada, new research on cannabis use may begin to fill the existing evidence gaps and better define its risks.

Because of its illegal status, women may have been reluctant to report using cannabis during pregnancy unless it was being used medically, and research ethics may have prohibited its study. Consequently, much of what we know about cannabis use in pregnancy has come from data gathered during studies on alcohol and tobacco. That is why it now makes sense to link the work of all three substances.

For instance, research shows that women who use cannabis during pregnancy are more likely to smoke cigarettes and use alcohol.1 As well, co-use of tobacco and cannabis is associated small head circumference and may increase other birth defects (cardio, musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal) compared to no-use and single-use groups.2 This finding of association should be interpreted with some caution based on the number of limitations of the study. Still, it does underscore the need for more robust research in order to understand the association.

Researching all three substances allows for understanding the “clustering of risks” and the interactions between those risks in a way that targeting individual substances cannot do.3 By looking at the clustering of risk as described by researchers, holistic prevention efforts can target social determinants of health that affect poly-substance use.

Linking the findings on the three substances allows researchers to parse out the differences among those who use substances in pregnancy, and the clusters of risk for the substances they use. That will help to further prevention efforts in messaging, discussing substance use with women and their partners, and supporting women with holistic and safe approaches.

References

1. Ko, J.Y., Tong, V.T., Bombard, J.M., Hayes, D.K., Davy, J., & Perham-Hester, K.A. (2018). Marijuana use during and after pregnancy and association of prenatal use on birth outcomes: A population-based study. Drug and alcohol dependence, 187, 72-78.
2. Coleman-Cowger, V.H., Oga, E.A., Peters, E.N., & Mark, K. (2018). Prevalence and associated birth outcomes of co-use of Cannabis and tobacco cigarettes during pregnancy. Neurotoxicology and teratology, 68, 84-90.
3. Passey, Megan E. et al. (2014). Tobacco, alcohol and cannabis use during pregnancy: Clustering of risks. Drug & Alcohol Dependence, Volume 134, 44–50. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376871613003700#bib0185

For more on these topics, see earlier posts:

DISCUSSING ALCOHOL USE WITH WOMEN – DOES THE SBIR MODEL NEED REARRANGING? October 4, 2017
ALCOHOL, COCAINE, MARIJUANA, AND CIGARETTE USE DURING PREGNANCY: LOOKING AT RELATIVE HARMS March 17, 2014

Youth understanding of substance use and pregnancy

With marketing of alcohol and nicotine delivery products to youth, legalization of cannabis, and the crisis in prescription pain medication use, there are new opportunities to have conversations with youth about substance use and pregnancy, with the aim of reducing the harms and improving their overall health.

What do we know about youth understanding of substance use and pregnancy?

Existing research and data on youth behaviour provide a window.

One U.S. study showed a relationship between pregnancy and prior substance use among adolescents, and among younger adolescents in particular.

  • 59% of pregnant teens and 35% of nonpregnant teens reported having used substances in the previous 12 months.
  • Some substance use continued in pregnancy particularly among younger pregnant adolescents ages 12-14. (1)

The McCreary Centre Society conducts an adolescent health survey in BC every 5 years. The 2018 evaluation is underway, but findings from 2013 indicated a number of factors related to youth substance use and pregnancy.

Those at higher risk for harmful alcohol use include:

  • Youth in rural areas
  • Youth who were born in Canada
  • Youth who were employed
  • Youth living in poverty
  • Youth experiencing abuse or violence
  • Sexual minority youth
  • Peer relationships have risks in terms of starting drinking earlier and binge drinking particularly when friend groups are large.

Those at greater risk of being involved in a pregnancy include:

  • Youth who first had sex before their 14th birthday
  • Youth in rural areas
  • Youth who had been in government care. Among these youth, girls were more likely than boys to be have been involved in a pregnancy
  • Youth who had been physically abused
  • Youth who had been sexually abused. Among these youth, males who were more likely to have been involved in a pregnancy.

The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) from 2017 shows that:

  • 17% of youth have participated in binge drinking and 16% cannot remember what happened during that time
  • Boys are more likely to use e-cigarettes and all forms of tobacco, over-the-counter cold/cough medications, energy drinks, cannabis, and psychedelics
  • Girls are more likely to use prescription opioids for pain relief and tranquilizers medically

IMPART info sheet on “Youth, Gender and Substance Use” recaps how the harms of early substance use are gender-specific.

How do we approach building awareness and prevention?

Opening “Doorways to Conversation” about substance use and pregnancy allows for brief interventions and support for youth as well as women and girls. Many providers think that they need to have appropriately tested screening tools along with the knowledge, skills and confidence to conduct them. As one United Nations study found, less than 30% of health providers routinely screened youth for substance use for these reasons.(2)

Trauma-informed, culturally relevant, and gender-specific relational approaches build trusting relationships that can support youth who may be dealing with more complex issues like violence and abuse, gender identity, or the foster care system.

Promising Approaches for Reaching Youth on Substance Use and Pregnancy

Here are some current promising approaches to improving youth understanding of substance use and pregnancy in Canada.

Projects like “Let’s Get Real About Drinking Alcohol” are trainings for youth focusing on the interconnection of substance use, safe sex, birth control, and drinking during pregnancy. You can view a webcast about the project here.
This handout offers conversation starters on substance use for group facilitators. Girls Action Foundation “Take Care” program provides a curriculum and resources for facilitators of girls’ groups to promote critical thinking about healthy living including substance use and sexuality.
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) has created a low-risk drinking guide for youth.

Online sexual health resources for youth:

Teen Health Source Native Youth Sexual Health Network

  1. Christopher P. Salas-Wright, Michael G. Vaughn, Jenny Ugalde, Jelena Todic. Substance Use and Teen Pregnancy in the United States: Evidence from the NSDUH 2002–2012. Addictive Behaviors, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.01.039
  2. Chakravarthy, B., Shah, S., & Lotfipour, S. (2013). Adolescent drug abuse – Awareness & prevention. The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 137(6), 1021–1023.

FASD Prevention Campaigns Link to Support

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.

Yukon

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.

Alberta

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.

Saskatchewan

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 http://skprevention.ca/how-to-help/

Saskatchewan Prevention Institute http://skprevention.ca/

Québec

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

Ontario

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.

FASD ONE

For previous posts about other prevention campaigns, see:

ARE SHOCK TACTICS EFFECTIVE? March 22, 2011

SHOULD AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS BE FEAR-BASED OR SUPPORT-BASED? April 20, 2011

STRONG SPIRIT STRONG FUTURE CAMPAIGN IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA December 19, 2013

ALCOHOL AND PREGNANCY CAMPAIGN FROM NUNAVUT, CANADA September 23, 2014

ONTARIO ALCOHOL AND PREGNANCY AWARENESS CAMPAIGN DRAWS MIXED REACTIONS September 16, 2014

“SWAP THE PUB FOR YOUR BUB” – PREGNANT PAUSE CAMPAIGN LAUNCHES IN CANBERRA August 21, 2014

FASD AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS: CREATING EFFECTIVE MESSAGES July 14, 2014

“WOMEN WANT TO KNOW” CAMPAIGN FOR HEALTH PROFESSIONALS FROM AUSTRALIA July 9, 2014

RETHINK YOUR DRINKING CAMPAIGN FROM SOUTHWESTERN ONTARIO January 13, 2014