Healthy communities support healthy pregnancies

Pregnancy is an exciting time of change and hope for many women, but it can also be surprisingly lonely and stressful.

Pregnancy is an exciting time of change and hope for many women, but it can also be surprisingly lonely and stressful. For some women pregnancy can isolate them from friends and the activities that they enjoy.  Many people know that drinking during pregnancy is not good for the baby, but they may not know how much risk is involved.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a spectrum of physical and mental challenges and delays affecting people all over the world and it is considered to be the most common form of preventable birth disorder in the Western world. Health Canada conservatively estimates that approximately 9 out of every 1000 children born in Canada are affected by prenatal alcohol exposure.

Out of the following women, who do you think is at risk for giving birth to a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

• A college educated woman has heard conflicting information about the risk of alcohol use during pregnancy, and she continues to drink alcohol at business and social gatherings.

• A girl in high school likes to binge drink on the weekends with her boyfriend and friends; sometimes she blacks out.

•  woman is upset because she has recently confirmed that she is pregnant; this was unplanned and she feels that she does not have anyone in her life that she can count on to help her through the pregnancy. She has an alcohol addiction and she drinks when she feels overwhelmed.

The answer is all three women.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is an equal opportunity disability – Sterling Clarren

Studies have shown that there is no known safe time to drink during pregnancy and there is no known safe amount.  The effects of prenatal alcohol exposure might range from mild to severe.  Binge drinking (4 or more drinks on one occasion) increases the risk to the fetus directly with the amount of alcohol consumed as a fetus lacks the ability to effectively metabolize alcohol. Women and their partners can reduce the risk of alcohol exposure, by avoiding alcohol if planning a pregnancy and using effective contraception if consuming alcohol.

Addiction can be difficult to comprehend, however understanding addiction is one of the keys to preventing FASD; the Canadian FASD research Network identifies contributing factors that increase the risk of addiction including poverty, experience of violence, stigma and racial discrimination, experiences of loss or stress, and isolation. Accurate information, non-judgemental support from professionals, families and friends, and adequate services can promote healthy pregnancies

“Preventing FASD is more than just telling women not to drink alcohol during pregnancy” – CanFASD

Any woman of childbearing age is at risk of having a child with FASD if alcohol is consumed.   In Canada 50 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned and women often do not know they are pregnant before six weeks gestation or more, hence; they could unknowingly drink during pregnancy.  Other factors that contribute to FASD include:  conflicting messages about the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy; a lack of awareness of the effects of prenatal alcohol; domestic violence; mental health issues; and addiction.

Women struggling with addiction may not be able to stop drinking without adequate treatment and support.  Individuals who live with FASD may lack the ability to make informed healthy decisions on their own.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Day is an opportunity to reflect on FASD prevention and healthy pregnancies and to recognize and support those who live with FASD and their unique lifelong challenges. Learn more about FASD, share what you have learned, and support pregnant women in your life.

Please help raise awareness by joining the College of New Caledonia on Tuesday Sept. 9 2014 in recognizing International FASD Awareness Day.