Education and support for women key to stopping FASD

By Contributor
August 13th, 2012

By: Riley Chapman, winner FASD Essay Contest

When you think about brain damage you likely think about tragic accidents that we have no control over. But do you ever think about the most common type of brain damage that is also one hundred percent preventable? 

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD is a disability that occurs when a mother consumes alcohol while she is pregnant. There is no cure and it inflicts a wide range of damages on the child. Far too many people are uneducated or don’t have the facts, but anyone who wishes to have a family needs to know the effects of FASD.

It is important to know whom it happens to, why it happens and what communities need to do to support these women and put an end to this. A fetus has no control over its mother and yet the decisions she makes affect its life forever. They cannot lookout for themselves and so it’s time for everyone to stand up and help protect them.

  Each year in Canada, one in every 750 babies is born with FASD. This means that they, severely or mildly, suffer from physical, brain and central nervous system disabilities as well as cognitive, behavioral and emotional issues. Throughout their lives hey will be subject to developmental delays, poor social skills and learning difficulties.

Many other factors can affect the severity of the disability such as genetics, biological makeup and metabolism of the fetus. Some fetuses are more susceptible based on their genes. Also, post natal, if the baby suffers from any type of neglect or malnutrition then their symptoms can be heightened.

Although it is impossible to predetermine how much a child will be affected by a mother drinking, we know for a fact that if the mother consumes no alcohol in pregnancy then her child will most certainly not be born with FASD.

When the facts have been laid out for you, it’s hard to imagine how a mother could sentence her unborn baby to this fate. But it happens all too often. In a recent survey it was discovered that 14percent of women drank alcohol during their last pregnancy and 90percent of them were aware of the effects that this could have on their baby.

The knowledge that they have about FASD is not equal to their actions. So who are these women? The rate of FASD is much higher in high-risk areas such as native reserves and areas of extreme poverty.

Unplanned pregnancies, like with teenagers, have higher rates of FASD because they often don’t realize they are pregnant yet or they don’t feel ready to take responsibility for the child.

From the year 1991 to 2005 there was no reduction in the amount of babies being born with FASD despite awareness and marketing. This is likely because often, the pregnant women has low education, addiction ,is living in poverty, has a partner with an addiction, is subjected to abuse or has no social network of support for her pregnancy.

Also, if the woman has a family history of substance abuse or a history of mental illness then this adds to the likeliness that she will drink while pregnant. Many of these women are trapped in unhealthy situations and they have no one to support them. They need a helping hand before we can see a difference.

If you watch a crime occur and do nothing to stop it, are you a criminal? These women struggle through unimaginable horrors and all we do is judge them for the decisions they make.

It takes a whole community to put an end to FASD and give these women the security and support that they need. We need to reduce the blame we place on these mothers so they feel comfortable coming for help or advice. Rather than saying that if they drink they will have a disabled baby, the focus should be on encouraging them to make healthy choices before, during and after pregnancy so their child can be born healthy.

This issue is not just for women. It is as much responsibility on the father as well. If he allows his partner to consume alcohol then he is just as guilty but none of the blame falls on him. Communities need to do a better job at making everyone aware of the disease and that their marketing reaches all women, even those living in remote, isolated areas or those with literacy issues.

The whole community must support social change and resources need to be plentiful. These women need a safe place that they can easily get to where they can get help without judgment and that might make a difference for many women.

Rather than making FASD a taboo subject there should be awareness signs everywhere! They should be visible in liquor stores, on grocery bags and on the door of every bathroom in each bar or restaurant. No sign should be without a contact number for women who need support. Stop blaming and start encouraging change.

Every baby born is a miracle so let’s challenge ourselves as a community to see less and less babies being born with FASD each year.

They say it takes a whole village to raise a child and that should start from the moment it is conceived. Rather than turning your back or thinking that just because you never plan on drinking while pregnant means it isn’t your problem, give these women a lifeline.

Encourage every woman you know to practice safe habits while she is pregnant and ensure that she knows this will benefit her baby as well as her.

No one can change alone so it’s time that everybody stepped up. Protect these babies and help make the community a safe place for every child to grow up. 

Sept. 9 is Fetal Alcohol Awareness Day. The peer mentors of the Baby’s Best Chance program at Boundary Family and Individual Services chose to host an essay contest for youth to raise awareness and create involvement by a wider community in this important health issue. Funds for the prizes were provided by the YShift group of the Phoenix Foundation of the Boundary. This is the first in a series of essay winners that we will be publishing over the coming weeks.