Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a lifelong disability. Individuals with FASD will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential. Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges.
When medically diagnosed, people who fall under FASD are diagnosed with one of the following:
FASD with sentinel features
FASD without sentinel features
FASD used to be referred to as fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects (FAS/FAE) FASD (FAS, ARND, pFAS) in older literature. The most conservative numbers estimate that over 3,000 babies a year are born with FASD. More recently, research by May et al (2009) suggest that the number of people with FASD could be as high as 2-5% of children in school in the U.S. Recent work by Canadian researchers have found prevalence of 2-3% in elementary age children in the greater Toronto area (CAMH, 2018). Research suggests that there is greater prevalence in rural communities, child welfare systems, justice systems and Aboriginal populations. Stigma experienced by women who consumed alcohol during pregnancy have made getting support, diagnoses or assessments more challenging.
Some researchers identify the high prevalence in Aboriginal populations is a symptom of historical and multigenerational trauma (e.g. residential schools) and, in some communities, an interest in understanding the scope/magnitude of FASD diagnoses in their area. However, 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. There is no current research that clearly links alcohol consumption by the biological father of a person (with FASD) to FASD. However, it is important for any partner of a woman who is pregnant to consider their role and how it will affect her health and the anticipated health of the fetus. Partners are often encouraged (and are other household members) to abstain from drinking alcohol with a pregnant woman, as a form of support.
Myths & Facts MYTH: Drinking small amounts of alcohol, especially early in the pregnancy won't harm a fetus.
FACT: Drinking low amount of alcohol, such as 1-2 drinks at a time, may cause harm to a fetus. Current research methods might now be able to detect these effects for some time.
MYTH: Alcohol or drugs taken after the first trimester will not affect the unborn baby.
FACT: Most organ development is completed a few weeks after the first trimester. Brain development continues throughout pregnancy and after birth. Exposure to substances any time in the pregnancy can affect the baby's brain.
MYTH: A breastfeeding mother can provide more breast milk for her baby by drinking beer.
FACT: When a mother drinks alcohol it passes into her breast milk. Studies have shown that infants take in less breast milk when the mother drinks any type of alcohol, including beer. Contact the Breastfeeding Coalition to get more information or get connected with someone in your area.
MYTH: One drink in pregnancy is enough to harm the unborn baby.
FACT: A safe amount of alcohol in pregnancy is not known. It is unlikely, though, that a single drink before you knew you were pregnant could damage your unborn baby. Avoid drinking when you know you are pregnant and call the Helpline to talk about how drinking during pregnancy can affect your unborn baby's development.
MYTH: There is no hope for a baby exposed to heavy drug and alcohol use.
FACT: There is always hope. Drug and alcohol use in pregnancy affects each baby differently. Call for information on the risks of birth defects and where to find prenatal support. Taken from http://www.motherisk.org/women/alcohol.jsp
MYTH: FASD means mental deficiencies.
FACT: Some people with FASD have cognitive impairments and/or developmental delays and some do not. People with FAS can have normal and above-average intelligence. While there is injury to the brain, each affected person will have specific areas of strengths and weaknesses.
MYTH: Behavior problems linked to FASD and partial FASD are all the result of poor parenting.
FACT: Definitely NOT! Brain injury can lead to behavioral problems because people with brain injuries do not process information in the same way that other people do. Children with brain injuries can be challenging to raise, and their parents need help and support—not criticism and judgment.
MYTH: Children affected by FASD will grow out of it when they grow up.
FACT: Unfortunately, they do not ‘grow out of it’. FASD lasts a lifetime, even though the symptoms and types of problems can change with age.
MYTH: Admitting that a child has brain injury is to give up on him/her.
FACT: We need NEVER give up on any child with any problem. Instead, we need to understand the needs of those affected by FASD and explore ways to help them.
Regardless of how you may feel about the possibility of being pregnant, the first step is helping you determine what the chances are of you being pregnant and then what you need to do. If you have reason to believe you may be pregnant theAm I Pregnant? quiz may provide some information. It cannot tell you whether you are actually pregnant (only a urine or blood pregnancy test will do that) but it will help you better understand the signs and symptoms you are experiencing and your chances of being pregnant. The answers provided to you through the responses you give, will guide you in what you need to do.
To learn more about signs and symptoms of pregnancy, emergency contraception (Morning After Pill, also known as Plan B) and home pregnancy tests, click here. In Newfoundland and Labrador, home pregnancy tests can be purchased at drug stores and some supermarket and department stores. They are also available for $1.25 at Dollarama, and for $10.00 at Planned Parenthood Newfoundland and Labrador: NL Sexual Health Centre. The Sexual Health Centre (located in St. John’s) can also perform a pregnancy test while you wait, as well as provide you with counseling on pregnancy options. More information about Planned Parenthood is available here: NL Sexual Health Centre.