It's Your Health
This article was produced in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada.
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Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can seriously harm an unborn baby. Each year in Canada, it is estimated that nine babies in every 1,000 are born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The birth defects and developmental disabilities that result from FASD are preventable by avoiding alcohol during pregnancy.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term used to describe the range of disabilities and diagnoses that result from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. The impact and effects of FASD vary. Specific birth defects and the degree of the disability can depend on how much alcohol was drunk, how often and when during the pregnancy; they can also depend on the state of health of the pregnant woman. No amount or type of alcohol during pregnancy is considered safe.
It is estimated that in Canada, more than 3,000 babies a year are born with FASD, and about 300,000 people are currently living with it. Research suggests that the occurrence of FASD is significantly greater in Aboriginal populations, and in rural, remote and northern communities. Prevention, identification and intervention efforts are key to improving this situation.
A large number of pregnancies in Canada are unplanned, meaning that a large number of women in the early stages of their pregnancies - not knowing they are pregnant - may use alcohol and unknowingly cause damage.
If you suspect that a family member may have FASD, talk to your doctor about having him/her diagnosed. An early diagnosis can lead to interventions which will minimize the impact of FASD.
FASD is a national public health, education, economic and social concern as those affected suffer a lifelong disability and may need lifelong support. A great deal has been learned about the best way to prevent future births affected by alcohol and how to help those who live with FASD. From 2002 to 2006, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) funded several projects on FASD and how to help those who live with it. Highlighted projects are given in the Need More Info? section.
Those who live with FASD may have mild to very severe problems with their health. They may have delays in their development, intellectual problems and problems in their social lives.
Examples of these include:
There is no cure for FASD. People live with FASD for their entire lives, so early intervention is key to minimizing the disabilities associated with it.
When they hear about the impact of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, many parents or care-givers wonder what to look for, especially if their family members have behavioural or medical problems that don't respond to treatment. Those with FASD may have difficulties such as:
People with FASD may need life-long support to deal with these difficulties.
Diagnosis, particularly an early diagnosis, and an effective management plan for on-going supports can help prevent people with FASD from developing secondary disabilities, such as:
If FASD is suspected, it is important that a trained doctor do a medical diagnosis to rule out other medical conditions that might be treatable. Diagnosis also involves a team of professionals who assess the psychological, speech and everyday functioning of the individual. Diagnosis and early intervention and support can help people with FASD lead more productive lives.
Despite their disabilities, people with FASD have many positive qualities and can enjoy very successful lives.
FASD can be prevented by following these steps.
In preventing FASD and improving outcomes for those who live with it, no one single organization, community group or government can work alone. It is a complex disability that requires a strong commitment to working together.
The Government of Canada has initiated many projects to deal with the impact of alcohol use during pregnancy.
In 2003, Health Canada released FASD: A Framework for Action to guide the development and implementation of collaborative efforts to address the issues associated with FASD. When Canada's Drug Strategy was renewed in 2003, investments helped develop and distribute the diagnostic guidelines and planning tools to guide earlier assessment.
In 2005, Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: Canadian guidelines for diagnosis was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) through support from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada. See the Need More Info? section to obtain a copy of the guidelines.
Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch provides community-based programming to reduce FASD births and improve the quality of life for those affected by FASD. Programs include:
Other Government of Canada departments or agencies that have invested in a range of FASD activities include Justice Canada; Canadian Institutes for Health Research; Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; Human Resources and Social Development Canada; and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.
For more information on FASD, visit these web sites:
For more on FASD projects funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada:
For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web site.
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-267-1245*
Original: September 2006
ę Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2006