September 9 is International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) day. This day was chosen so that on the ninth day of the ninth month of the year, the world will remember that during the nine months of pregnancy it is best for women to abstain from alcohol.
Why do women drink during pregnancy?
Fifty to sixty per cent of pregnancies in Canada are unplanned. Approximately 80 per cent of Canadian women who are of childbearing age drink alcohol. Most women don’t know they are pregnant until at least six weeks gestation and some women don’t realize they are pregnant until much farther into their pregnancy. Given this information it’s easy to see how a woman can unknowingly drink alcohol during pregnancy.
Conflicting messages about alcohol and pregnancy often leave women wondering what to believe. Even though the effects of alcohol during pregnancy were discovered in the late sixties and early seventies there is still messaging that would lead women to believe that alcohol consumption is acceptable during pregnancy. Women have even reported hearing these messages from health professionals.
Professional, college educated women are often missed as being at risk of alcohol consumption during pregnancy because they can be automatically viewed as being social drinkers. In fact, women over 35 years of age who are highly educated have been identified as being high risk especially if they have a history of abuse.
Women who have experienced trauma and live in poverty, isolation and face domestic violence are more prone to alcohol use as a way of coping with extremely traumatizing life experiences especially if they struggle with addiction.
FASD is Preventable
Conservative estimates of FASD are reported as one in 100 births. Practitioners in the field of FASD report that the incidence is much higher though it is considerably under diagnosed. Even at low estimates this disorder is more prevalent than Autism and Down’s syndrome combined.
Individuals who live with FASD have varying degrees of brain injury and often have difficulty with memory, abstract concepts such as time and money, cause and effect reasoning and impulse control. They often struggle when it comes to employment, housing, education and parenting. With an accurate diagnosis and appropriate supports individuals who live with FASD can live fulfilling lives and be contributing members of society.
FASD prevention is possible but it’s not simple
FASD is caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Health Canada recommend that women refrain from alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Experts in the field of FASD report that there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.