What is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder?

Published on September 7, 2015

The ninth day of the ninth month of every year is International FASD Day.

The purpose is to raise awareness about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and to get out the message that during the nine months of pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or while planning to conceive, women should not drink alcohol. This is also a moment to remember those millions of people around the world who are living with fetal alcohol disorders.
When a woman drinks alcohol while she is pregnant, her baby may be born with FASD. There are many complex factors why a pregnant woman may drink, including poverty, unemployment, abuse and family violence. Sometimes these factors are beyond the woman's control. She may drink alcohol to try to cope and then continue this behaviour while she is pregnant. FASD is also a risk for women who might drink alcohol without knowing they are pregnant or are unaware of the consequence of exposing the unborn baby (fetus) to alcohol.
According to the Canadian Community Health Survey (2003), 13.9 per cent of women reported drinking alcohol at some point while they were pregnant. Therefore alcohol use while not using effective contraception can place a woman at risk for having an alcohol exposed pregnancy.
The effects of alcohol on the developing fetus can cause a range of physical disabilities, brain and central nervous system disabilities and behavioural problems. The effects that the child is born with are permanent and are known as the “primary disabilities,” according to Public Health Agency of Canada.
Public Health Agency of Canada also describes secondary disabilities as those “disabilities that an individual is not born with, but may develop as a result of interaction with what society expects from children as they grow and develop.”
The impact of alcohol on the fetus can range in severity and depends on factors like how much, when and how often the mother drinks, and the mother's and baby's genetic makeup and health.
Recent studies conducted by Alcohol Health and Research World have shown that drinking even small amounts of alcohol at any time while a woman is pregnant can have a negative impact on the developing brain of her unborn baby. Even consuming one or two drinks a week puts a baby at risk, says Canadian Women’s Health Network.
The Government of Canada recommends that there is no safe time or safe amount of alcohol to drink when pregnant or when planning to become pregnant.
Take a minute of silence at 9:09 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. This minute of reflection symbolizes the worldwide circle of community which links all of us who care about FASD, all of us who are working towards prevention, all of us who are trying to help children and adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders reach their full potential.
Lavina Morris, executive director of the Gateway Status of Women Centre