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In 2016, the UK Chief Medical Officer with endorsement from the Royal College of Midwives updated advice on drinking alcohol during pregnancy, stating:

“I want pregnant women to be very clear that they should avoid alcohol as a precaution. Although the risk of harm to the baby is low if they have drunk small amounts of alcohol before becoming aware of the pregnancy, there is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol to drink when you are pregnant.”

This month, the Centre for Pregnancy Culture Studies (CPCS) and others have been getting a lot of press for the claim that women are being unnecessarily frightened by this most recent advice and may be terminating pregnancies because of it (see post below for facts on this). They say that women who choose to drink at low levels during pregnancy are being stigmatized when the facts don’t support the guidelines.  Further, they claim “the exclusion of women from an ordinary activity on the basis of ‘precaution’ can more properly be called sexist than benign.” (The Guardian, May 17, 2017)

That they see alcohol as a normal activity that women should have a right to, does a disservice to both feminism and to alcohol education. There is definitely here a reluctance to examine alcohol as a substance that has the potential to negatively affect health in all situations, and is a teratogen in the context of pregnancy.  More, rather than less, discussion of alcohol on men’s and women’s health, and not only in relation to preconception and pregnancy would be welcome.  Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines could inspire more public consideration of what we know and don’t know about alcohol.

CPCS’s comments were in tandem with a larger Policing Pregnancy conference held last week. And on points of pregnancy policing, we agree. Facts show that policing pregnancy increases stigma and pushes women to the margins so that they don’t get the help they want [1]. Women should not be policed for their actions in pregnancy, rather they should have access to information and conversations that can support their decisions.

Preconception and prenatal health care with a caring and knowledgeable health care provider is critical to helping women have the best health and pregnancy possible. How many women have the kind of discussion of alcohol and the care they deserve?

As one opinion writer noted in response to the coverage, the tinkering with alcohol guidelines for pregnant women is not the harm here – it is the lack of services and care that pregnant women receive. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/20/i-can-cope-with-drinking-advice-but-not-bad-care

 

For more information, see these earlier posts:

Policing or Supportive? Why We Should Test Pregnant Women for Alcohol Use, July 7, 2015

Do Concerns about Alcohol Use during Pregnancy Lead Women to Consider having an Abortion? February 1, 2013

References

  1. Poole, N. and B. Isaac, Apprehensions: Barriers to Treatment for Substance-Using Mothers. 2001, British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health: Vancouver, BC.

 

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)

why-do-girls-and-women-drinkThe Washington Post recently featured an article on the normalisation of heavy drinking for women. Citing targeted advertising and multiple media, particularly to girls on social media, the article outlines the dangers in this trend of treating alcohol as a lifestyle rather than a drug. The obvious dangers are that normalising heavy drinking will increase the number of alcohol-exposed pregnancies and have a negative impact on girls’ and women’s health. Advertising exploits the positive connections women seek with each other, making it about drinking together and promoting it on t-shirts, cups, cards and even wine labels.

The liquor industry is attempting to link drinking with gender equality. But there is nothing equal or liberating about the risks women and girls face, or the distain that is heaped upon them for drunkenness. A recent article in the Daily Mail supported public shaming of binge drinking by young women in particular, and featured numerous denigrating photos of them on New Year’s Eve. Many pointed out the hypocrisy of moralising (Suzanne Moore, The Guardian). A different dialogue is needed: one that focuses on facts, health, education, and creates platforms of conversation and support.

It’s science not sexism that reveals the risks and consequences of heavy drinking for women and girls, and ways to reduce harm. We have learned why women may drink, the effectiveness of non-judgmental approaches to reducing harm, and best practices and policies for promoting health. The facts are not as confusing as some suggest and by focusing on them, we can counter normalising and moralising.

  • Women’s bodies process alcohol differently, so woman’s alcohol level will be higher than a man drinking the same amount. Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines reflect this sex difference.girls-alcohol-pregnancy-picture
  • Men, in general, are riskier drinkers than women as evidenced by rates of alcohol-related injury and mortality, but women have more chronic health risks related to heavy drinking (Wilsnack & Wilsnack, 2013).
  • Beyond the risk of addiction, Jennie Cook’s research found a causal link between drinking and at least 7 forms of cancer for both sexes (Connor, 2017).
  • Claims of protective factors for cardiovascular disease are coming under scrutiny and skepticism even as these claims remain a core industry research topic and argument for drinking (Chikritzhs, Fillmore, & Stockwell, 2009)
  • How and when we present the facts of drinking alcohol to women and their partners makes a difference to the health of women and their families (See 10 Fundamental components of FASD Prevention from a women’s health determinant perspective).
  • Prevention of alcohol harms requires a tiered response in policy, practice, and messaging (See FASD Prevention: Canadian Perspectives)
  • Comprehensive and integrated programs that build relationships work best for supporting women in making healthy choices for themselves and their families (See Mothercraft’s Mother-Child Study)

References

Chikritzhs, T., Fillmore, K., & Stockwell, T. I. M. (2009). A healthy dose of scepticism: Four good reasons to think again about protective effects of alcohol on coronary heart disease. Drug and Alcohol Review, 28(4), 441-444. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3362.2009.00052.x

Coalescing on Women and Substance Use. http://coalescing-vc.org/virtualLearning/section2/documents/GirlsAlcoholPregnancyinfographic7.pdf

Connor, J. (2017). Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer. Addiction, 112(2), 222-228. doi:10.1111/add.13477

Wilsnack, R. W., & Wilsnack, S. C. (2013). Gender and alcohol: consumption and consequences. In P. B. Peter Boyle, Albert B. Lowenfels, Harry Burns, Otis Brawley, Witold Zatonski, Jürgen Rehm (Ed.), Alcohol: Science, policy and public health (pp. 153-160). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on related topics, see earlier blogs:

DANISH CAMPAIGN SUGGESTS THAT EVERYONE “STICK A CORK IN IT” ON OCTOBER 11TH, October 11, 2012

SPECIALIZED TREATMENT AND CARE FOR PREGNANT WOMEN WITH SUBSTANCE ABUSE PROBLEMS AND THEIR CHILDREN IN HAGA, GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN, November 15, 2012

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION RELEASES THE FIRST EVIDENCE-BASED GLOBAL GUIDELINES TO PREVENT AND TREAT SUBSTANCE USE BY PREGNANT WOMEN, April 28, 2014

GLOBAL STATUS REPORT ON ALCOHOL AND HEALTH 2014 – WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, July 24, 2014

PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTING SCREENING AND BRIEF INTERVENTION FOR RISKY ALCOHOL USE: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE FOR PRIMARY CARE PRACTICES FROM THE CDC, August 4, 2014

HOLISTIC AND SPECIALIZED SUPPORT FOR PREGNANT WOMEN: LEVEL 3 PREVENTION, November 21, 2016

FASD ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY 2015, PART 3

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.

REFERENCES

  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.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) is marking November 13-19 as National Addictions Awareness Week. Across Canada, organizations like CEWH and CanFASD are joining with CCSA to bring attention to problematic substance use in Canada. We are highlighting the imbalance between the societal, health and economic costs that substance use problems/addiction brings, and the funding provided for treatment and harm reduction services/supports.

dtnaaw-03-403x213-enCCSA has been a partner in our efforts to explore how addiction can make it difficult to stop alcohol use during pregnancy, and how women-centred approaches are needed in prevention, harm reduction and treatment. You can help us and the CCSA in promoting treatment, highlighting existing barriers, and finding solutions by supporting this campaign. Download the NAAW Toolkit to get ideas for social media postings and organization activities. You can also join the dialogue over social media by following @CCSACanada and using the hashtag #NAAWCanada.

See these earlier blog posts on addictions or “Search the Blog” on the left of this page:
Honouring our Strengths: Culture as Intervention in Addictions Treatment, June 5, 2014
Young Women United: Campaign to Increase Access to Care and Treatment for Pregnant Women with Addictions, February 18, 2014

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.


REFERENCES
  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:
http://www.health.govt.nz/publication/taking-action-fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorder-2016-2019-action-plan

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


References

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

 

 

 

NDARC Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

FASD Conference 2

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

7th National Biennial Conference on Adolescents and Adults with FASD

Research on prevention with girls and women with FASD

CanFASD  – description of the pNAT

FASD Prevention Resources Spring 2016

FASD Resources

Overview: Four Levels of FASD Prevention

Information Sheet: What Men Can Do To Prevent FASD

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