Prior to contact between Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and Europeans, there was no Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). First Nations people did not make alcohol.
The effects of alcohol exposed infants are an intergenerational wellness issue which involves more than preventing pregnant women from consuming alcohol. Rather, it involves whole communities to gain control over their lives through the development of community-based initiatives in areas of culture, education, health, economies, and justice.
There is evidence that alcohol consumption in pregnancy can cause fetal harm. However, insufficient evidence exists regarding fetal safety or harm with low levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
There is insufficient evidence to define any threshold for low-level drinking in pregnancy.
Alcohol is a known Teratogen, causing cell death and impeding the development of the central nervous system.
Abstinence is the prudent choice for a woman who is or might be pregnant. However risk reduction is critical for women who are problem drinkers and cannot achieve abstinence. FASD is more likely to occur following a continuous or heavy intake of alcohol during pregnancy although women who drink sparingly may have babies with alcohol-related damage. Research continues and there is no definitive information regarding safe amounts of alcohol during pregnancy. Women are advised that if they are or plan to become pregnant that they abstain from alcohol. There is no “safe” amount or time to drink during pregnancy.
Problematic use of alcohol by women in their child bearing years can negatively affect maternal and child health. There is good evidence that children and youth with FASD have significantly lower health and quality of life outcomes that children and youth from the general Canadian population.[i] FASD is irreversible. Children with FASD struggle with depression and anxiety and experience difficulties in social interactions and relationships.[ii]
FASD affects 1% (1/100) or over 330,000 Canadians. Health Canada estimates the incidence of FAS is estimated at 1 to 2 per 1000 births.
There is currently no accepted standardized screening test for FASD in Canada. However, screening for FASD may facilitate diagnosis and hence management of these children.
FASD is widely perceived to be100% preventable because it is a birth outcome linked to behaviors. It is important, however, to remember that many underlying social issues such as poverty, marginalization, domestic violence, and sexual abuse contribute to a woman drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
FASD is one of the leading causes of preventable birth defects and developmental delay in Canada and most countries in the world. FASD is the most common cause of neurobehavioral handicap in North America.
FASD is found in all economic and racial groups. FASD is not genetic or inherited.
FASD is not just a women’s issue. The role of paternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy is unclear. Research suggests that a father’s use of alcohol may cause damage to the sperm. Men are advised to abstain from alcohol if planning or risking a pregnancy.
[i]Stade, BC, Stevens, B Ungar WI, Beyene J, Koren G., Health-related quality of life of Canadian children and youth prenatally exposed to alcohol. Health Quality Life Outcomes 2006; 4(81): doc10.1186 1477-7525-4-81.
[ii]Square, D. Fetal alcohol syndrome epidemic on Manitoba reserve. CMAJ 1997l 157 (1): 59-60