FASD Awareness

Understanding the dangers of drinking during pregnancy this International FASD Awareness Day

In the UK, September marks FASD Awareness Month where the National Organisation for FASD and FASD Network UK come together to raise awareness of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

On the 9th September each year, International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (IFASD) Awareness Day is commemorated and has been done so since 1999.

The aim is to highlight a range of conditions that can affect an unborn baby when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, as well as the importance of remaining alcohol-free during pregnancy. Essential resources and support for those affected by FASD are also provided.

Latest figures from the National Organisation for FASD has shown that alcohol is more damaging to a developing baby than heroin, and alcohol use during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, or stillbirth.

While the guidance concerning alcohol consumption is clear – no amount of alcohol is safe when you are expecting a baby – for women struggling with alcohol misuse, pregnancy can be an incredibly challenging time, requiring additional support and guidance. What’s more, according to NHS data, 41% of women have drunk alcohol at some point in pregnancy – either before or after they knew they’d conceived.

Here, we explore Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and why it’s not safe for pregnant women to drink alcohol.

Everything you need to know about Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) can occur when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol during pregnancy, leading to complications in foetal development.

When a person consumes alcohol, it is broken down by the liver, and a proportion of the drug and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream. In pregnant women, alcohol can be passed from the mother’s bloodstream to the baby via the placenta.

An unborn baby cannot process alcohol well. This can lead to developmental problems in the womb, and irreversible damage to a baby’s brain and body.

Babies born with FASD can have permanent mental and physical health concerns including (but not limited to) issues with hearing, vision, and speech, learning difficulties, and problems with organs, bones, joints, and muscles.

FASD is a lifelong condition and research from the National Organisation for FASD shows there are 428 health conditions associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. It is also more common than autism in the UK and most children won’t present any symptoms at birth.

Despite this, early diagnosis can help ensure that both the mother and family receive the support they need, and that the needs of a child with FASD can be met, including via appropriate healthcare and education.

Forms of FASD include:

  • Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) – the most severe form of FASD caused by drinking during pregnancy. FAS can cause facial abnormalities, learning and mental disabilities, and problems with growth and the central nervous system.
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) – this can result in problems with impulse control, memory/attention span and learning and behavioural difficulties.
  • Partial foetal alcohol syndrome (PFAS) – resulting in central nervous system and growth problems.
  • Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD) – this can include hearing defects, as well as problems with the heart, kidneys, and bones.

Alcohol and pregnancy

National guidance on alcohol consumption in pregnancy is clear – there is no safe amount of alcohol that a woman can drink while expecting a baby, without posing significant risk to foetal development.

Drinking alcohol, even in low or moderate amounts, can also increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and low-birth weight. Researchers have also found that women who drink more than four alcoholic drinks per week were almost three times more likely to miscarry than women who didn’t drink at all. For these reasons, pregnant women are advised to avoid alcohol altogether.

For women who are struggling with alcohol misuse, there are many resources available to support both them and their families throughout pregnancy and beyond. These include the National Organisation for FASD, FASD Network UK and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

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