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, with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) being the most severe disorder on the spectrum. Specific birth defects and the degree of the disability can depend on how much alcohol was consumed, how often and when during the pregnancy; they can also depend on the state of health of the pregnant person. No amount or type of alcohol during pregnancy is considered safe.
It is estimated that in Canada, nine babies in every 1,000 are born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The 2009 Canadian Maternity Experiences Survey revealed that 10.5% of women who were pregnant continued to consume alcohol.
Prenatal exposure to alcohol can cause learning disabilities, hyperactivity, attention/memory deficits, inability to manage anger, poor judgment, difficulties with problem-solving, and delayed growth. It can also cause such physical disabilities as heart defects, cleft lip and palate, spina bifida, cysts or cavities in the brain, vision problems, kidney problems, liver defects, hernia, seizure disorders, and skeletal problems.
While not every woman who consumes alcohol during pregnancy will give birth to a child who has FASD, it is estimated that about 1 of every 67 women who do will. The effects are permanent. Many people with FASD need a lifetime of extra health care, education and social services. Often, individuals have lifelong problems with day-to-day living and are likely to experience early school dropout, substance use, problems securing and maintaining employment, homelessness, trouble with the law and mental health problems.
As of 2017, the Canadian Health Agency of Canada is directing funds towards five projects, with the goal of prevention, screening and surveillance of FASD. These include:
- Using Screening, Training and Data to Address Women's Alcohol Use During Pregnancy: Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC)
- Using Diagnosis and Data to Improve Outcomes in FASD: Canada FASD Research Network (CanFASD)
- Dialogue to Action on Discussing Alcohol with Women: BC Centre of Excellence for Women's Health (BCCEWH)
- Multi-Site Evaluation on FASD Prevention, with Holistic Programs Reaching Pregnant Women Who Could Be at Risk: Nota Bene Consulting Group
- Developing a multi-source surveillance system for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and prenatal alcohol exposure in Canada:: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)