September is FASD Awareness Month
September is FASD Awareness Month. In honor of this, we wanted to share some important information related to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Please help us increase awareness of FASD and the importance of alcohol-free pregnancies by reading and sharing this information.
What is FASD?
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a range of effects that occur when a developing fetus is exposed to alcohol. FASD can include brain injury and other physical disabilities and often leads to difficulties with behavior, learning, and other core aspects of life. These conditions are lifelong, irreversible, and incurable. FASD can affect a person in different ways, ranging from mild to severe.
What causes FASD?
FASD is caused by prenatal alcohol exposure or drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol is a teratogen that affects the frontal lobe of the brain, among other things. This area of the brain controls impulse control, decision making, judgment, problem solving, and generalized learning. As a result, people with an FASD may have: social and developmental delays; a slower processing pace, taking longer to understand something or think of an answer; a short attention span; memory problems; poor judgment and problem solving skills; difficulty predicting outcomes, trouble connecting actions and consequences; and poor impulse control.
How common is FASD?
A major study in 2018 found that up to 1 in 20 children has an FASD—that’s more common than autism. Prenatal alcohol exposure is even more common: in Minnesota, an estimated one in 10 babies (7,000 a year) had prenatal alcohol exposure. Not all these babies will have an FASD, but many do in fact have this lifelong disability.
What can we do?
Although FASD is incurable, it can be prevented by not drinking alcohol during pregnancy. There is no known safe level of alcohol during pregnancy. Four decades of scientific research have clearly demonstrated that alcohol is a teratogen and can cause permanent brain injury to a developing fetus. All major medical associations, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree on this research and this message.
There are a variety of factors that can result in alcohol use during pregnancy. Rather than blame or shame people who use alcohol during pregnancy, MOFAS works to address the underlying factors that can lead to prenatal alcohol exposure.
One of these factors is unplanned pregnancy. Of all pregnancies in Minnesota, 40% are unplanned, and many women do not know they are pregnant for six to eight weeks. Important brain development occurs during this time, so it is important for women to understand this risk and, when possible, modify some of their health habits, like drinking alcohol, before becoming pregnant. Ensuring that people have access to family planning resources can also reduce both unplanned pregnancy and prenatal alcohol exposure. Having control over whether and when to become pregnant is a critical component to avoiding drinking during pregnancy. This requires access to information, contraception, health coverage, and other effective family planning tools.
What does MOFAS do?
While many people see preventing prenatal alcohol exposure as straightforward, MOFAS knows it’s a complex public health issue. We are careful to follow the research on what works. Our strategies to reach our goal of zero prenatal alcohol exposure include: educating people of childbearing age on the risks associated with alcohol use during pregnancy, supporting those who need more than information to have healthy alcohol-free pregnancies, and ensuring people have access to family planning resources.
It is also important to note that some women may need more than information to have alcohol-free pregnancies. MOFAS works to support these women, rather than shame or criminalize them. Addiction, trauma, mental illness, domestic violence, and other complex factors often tie into why someone might drink when they know they are pregnant.
MOFAS works to prevent prenatal alcohol exposure, and we also provide support to families impacted by FASD. MOFAS is the leading voice and resource on FASD statewide, providing education and support to prevent prenatal alcohol exposure, standing up for the rights of the FASD community, offering education and training so FASD is better understood, and guiding and supporting families through the FASD journey. To learn more about the resources and support we provide, visit www.mofas.org or call us at 651-917-2370.
This site is provided to families and professionals as an informative site on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It is not intended to replace professional medical, psychological, behavioral, legal, nutritional or educational counsel. Reference to any specific agency does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by MOFAS.