To the Editor:
On September 9, more than 40 Saskatchewan communities provided an opportunity for people to talk about the most common preventable disability in the Western World; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The Public Health Agency of Canada states that one baby out of 100 is born with this disability. This means approximately 150 Saskatchewan babies were born in 2013 with this lifelong challenge. That is almost 3 babies who are born with FASD per week!
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong disability with mental, physical, learning, and behaviour problems. These difficulties are often not visible until the child is older. FASD is often misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or a learning disability. FASD does not discriminate. Children and adults living with FASD come from all cultures, education, and income levels.
FASD can result when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol. The good news is that more than 85 per cent of women stop drinking while pregnant to protect their babies. The women most likely to report drinking while pregnant (putting their babies at risk) are between the ages of 35 and 44, white, college graduates, and employed.
In North America, 50 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned and these babies may be exposed to alcohol in the early months of development since the pregnancy may not be detected until after the first trimester. Women who are having sex but are not trying to get pregnant are encouraged to talk with their health care provider about birth control.
There are many confusing messages about alcohol and pregnancy, which may lead many to believe drinking alcohol is safe. Here are some facts about alcohol and pregnancy:
Alcohol can cross the placenta to the developing baby. The baby's liver cannot process the alcohol in the same way as the mother's liver. Alcohol stays in the baby's system longer, giving it more time to cause damage.
Alcohol is a teratogen and causes birth defects. Other teratogens are rubella, Thalidomide, and lead.
There is no scientific evidence available that determines a "safe" amount of alcohol that will not affect the developing fetus.
There is no known safe type of alcohol. This includes wine, beer, and coolers.
There is no known safe time to drink alcohol. The baby's organs develop at different times in pregnancy and the brain develops for all 9 months of pregnancy.
Raising awareness of the harm alcohol can cause a developing baby may lead even more women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy to stop using alcohol or ask for help. Partners, families, and friends can contribute greatly to the prevention of FASD by supporting a pregnant woman's choice to stop drinking alcohol.
Bev Drew, FASD Team Lead, Saskatchewan Prevention Institute; Marlene Dray,
FASD Prevention Coordinator,
Saskatchewan Prevention Institute.