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September 9th will mark almost two decades since the first FASD Awareness Day. Communities and organizations around the world are planning events and media campaigns to raise awareness. But what does “FASD awareness” actually mean? The answer is that FASD awareness is multi-layered.

It means AWARENESS that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a disability caused by prenatal alcohol exposure and has a range of effects that are lifelong and varied.

It means AWARENESS that for women, alcohol consumption has particular risks.

It means AWARENESS that there is no known safe amount of alcohol consumption or safe time to drink during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Without knowing how much or how little alcohol can cause FASD, there is always a risk.

It means AWARENESS that there are many reasons why a woman might drink during pregnancy and that women deserve information and support, not blame and stigma.

It means AWARENESS that FASD is a primary disability that affects individuals differently and can lead to secondary disabilities, particularly if undiagnosed.

It means AWARENESS that people living with FASD have both strengths and challenges, and they and their caregivers deserve and benefit from respect, support and resources.

It means AWARENESS that there are ways for everyone to take part in prevention and intervention efforts.

It means AWARENESS that research continues and there is hope.

Share your photos and videos with CanFASD on social media to raise awareness about FASD! Use #FASDAwarenessDay #CanFASD to WIN Great Prizes! On Facebook and Twitter @CanFASD

A lot of progress has been made on effective FASD awareness and prevention strategies. Early efforts often used disrespectful tactics like unsettling pictures of women slugging down alcohol from a bottle while pregnant with a caption such as “Baby or the Bottle.” Those approaches have largely been abandoned. But one overly simple statement still pops up. And that is, “FASD is 100% Preventable.”

That statement is misleading because it suggests that FASD prevention is unidimensional and linked only to alcohol consumption. But alcohol use during pregnancy is linked to the social determinants of health, and its effects can be exacerbated by food insecurity, trauma, poverty and multi-substance use. It also suggests that stopping drinking is a simple choice. It puts the onus on the individual woman to make that choice and contributes to shame if they do not stop before they become pregnant. But in reality, there are many influences on women’s alcohol use, and real challenges to quitting before you know you are pregnant. Indeed, almost half of pregnancies are unplanned, so it is very challenging to be alcohol free before a pregnancy is confirmed.

In the case of other substances like tobacco or prescription painkillers, the public discourse extends beyond the individual user to corporate responsibilities, physicians and health authorities to provide harm reduction and treatment programs, and of governments to provide regulation and enforcement and policies that work toward social equity.

If we extend this perspective to alcohol use during pregnancy, we must speak about the responsibilities of the alcohol industry for targeting girls and women of childbearing age, and of health providers for providing comprehensive education and brief support during the preconception and prenatal periods. We must also consider the responsibilities of health services for providing integrated treatment programs for pregnant and parenting women; and of governments for ensuring gender equity and preventing violence against women.

Theoretically, stopping alcohol use in pregnancy, or ideally, before, sounds simple – just do it. But it takes a lot of individuals and sectors to do their part to make it realizable.  Simplifying it to statements like “FASD is 100% preventable” is not the best approach.

These previous blogs illustrate the full context of FASD and prevention approaches.

HOUSING IS KEY COMPONENT TO WOMEN’S RECOVERY, August 19, 2017

TARGETING STIGMA AND FASD IN MANITOBA, June 26, 2017

HEAVY DRINKING AMONG WOMEN: NORMALISING, MORALISING AND THE FACTS, Jan 24, 2017

FASD IS A PUBLIC SAFETY AND JUSTICE PRIORITY FOR ABORIGINAL GROUPS, October 23, 2016

HOW DO PARTNERS AFFECT WOMEN’S ALCOHOL USE DURING PREGNANCY? August 11, 2014

 

For International FASD Awareness Day on September 9th, the CanFASD Research Network, through its Prevention Network Action Team (pNAT) and the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, developed this infographic on what we know about alcohol use and preventing FASD. You can download a PDF version here.

CanFASD focuses on all aspects of FASD that impact women, individuals, caregivers, and service providers through its network action teams, each with a different focus – prevention, intervention, research, and policy and service providers. These teams aim to put forth knowledge in a way that is useful to communities and organizations in Canada in developing effective programs and policies.

You can search hashtags #FASDay2017 #CanFASD on Twitter to see examples of what others in Canada, or visit some of our pNAT partners using the links on the left side of this blog.

 

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.

Pregnant Pause is an initiative of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) in Australia.

The Pregnant Pause campaign launched in Canberra earlier this week with this new video.

Learn more about the campaign by visiting the Pregnant Pause website.

Overview: Four Levels of FASD Prevention

Information Sheet: What Men Can Do To Prevent FASD

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