Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

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.

Research suggests that the occurrence of FASD is significantly greater forIndigenous Peoples, and in rural, remote and northern communities. For example, it was found that around 60.5% of Inuit women in the northern part of Quebec consumed alcohol during the course of their pregnancy (which is about 10 times the national estimated average for Canada). Prevention, identification and intervention efforts are key to improving this situation. 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. 

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 does 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: