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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term for a group of physical, mental and/or behavioral changes that can happen to a fetus when someone drinks during a pregnancy.

FASD is a lifelong condition. It’s sometimes called a “hidden” or “invisible” condition because most people affected do not have noticeable physical features. While individuals may share common signs of FASD, every individual is unique with their own challenges and strengths.

There is no known safe amount of alcohol that can be used while pregnant. The more alcohol someone who is pregnant drinks, and the more often they drink, the greater the chance of harm to the fetus. If you are pregnant, the safest thing for the fetus is to stop drinking. For some people giving up drinking when they find out they are pregnant is simple. However, quitting or cutting down may not be as easy for everyone. Even if you can’t quit, drinking less can help reduce the risk for FASD.

What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term for a group of physical, mental and/or behavioral changes that can happen to a fetus when someone drinks during a pregnancy. It can include:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
  • partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)
  • Alcohol Related Neuro-developmental Disorder (ARND)

 

FASD is a lifelong condition. While individuals may share common features, every individual is unique with their own challenges and strengths.  Individuals with FASD are more likely to have trouble with:

  • Memory
  • Understanding cause and effect (consequences)
  • Getting used to changes in routines
  • Sensory stimulation – it can be hard handling a lot of different sensations or feelings at one time
  • Learning life skills
  • Forming and keeping healthy relationships – it may be difficult to figure out how to behave with other people, to express themselves or understand what others are trying to tell them

 

Sometimes (but not always) FASD causes physical effects. This may include:

  • Being smaller for their age (height and/or weight)
  • Problems with sight and/or hearing
  • Having smaller eyes
  • Having a smooth area between the nose and upper lip
  • Having a thin upper lip

 

Like all of us, a person or child with FASD has their own individual challenges and strengths but they have brains that work a little differently. They may need different approaches to caregiving and extra support. FASD Manitoba can help someone with FASD as well as parents and caregivers.

What causes FASD?

FASD is caused by alcohol use during pregnancy. Alcohol can interfere with the delivery of oxygen and nutrition to the growing fetus affecting physical and brain development.

There is no known safe amount of alcohol that can be used while pregnant, and we know that the more alcohol is consumed the greater the chance of harm to the fetus. Check out our pregnancy options section to learn more about the choices someone has if they are pregnant.

FASD Prevention

If you drink alcohol, are having penis-vagina sex and your body can carry a pregnancy then you may want to use birth control and condoms which reduce the possibility of creating a pregnancy. We’d also suggest checking out Project Choices to learn more about drinking and pregnancy. It is a free program that explores alcohol, sex and birth control. This program is based on respect, information and support – no one will tell what to do or that you have to change.

If you are pregnant, the safest thing for the fetus is to stop drinking. For some people giving up drinking when they find out they are pregnant might be pretty simple. However, quitting or cutting down may not be as easy for everyone. Even if you can’t quit, drinking less can help reduce your risk for FASD.

If you are deciding to continue a pregnancy and are struggling with drinking you can get help and support to have the healthiest pregnancy possible. Talk with someone you trust like a family member, counsellor, someone at a health centre, elder or the Teen Clinic. Check out our pregnancy options section to learn more about the choices someone has if they are pregnant.

Pre-natal care (regular check-ups during pregnancy ) helps reduce the risk of FASD and other problems in pregnancy. A Teen Clinic or your local health centre can help with making and attending appointments. It’s also important to try and eat healthy meals and snacks as healthy foods may reduce the impact of alcohol in a fetus as it develops.

If you are in Winnipeg, check out the Mothering Project at Mount Carmel Clinic. They offer non-judgmental prenatal care support for people who are pregnant and drinking. From anywhere in Canada you can call the Motherrisk Alcohol and Substance phone line for more information and support during a pregnancy, 1.877.327.4636.

Supporting Someone who is Pregnant and Drinking

It can be hard to see someone we care about drinking while they’re pregnant (or having friends or family who are using substances), but ultimately they need to decide for themselves if they have a problem or need help. When people are judged for using substances they are less likely to get help.

Ways to support someone is pregnant

  • Don’t drink or use drugs around them
  • If they are drinking, try to find out why and what is going on for them – be caring, open, and a good listener and try not to judge
  • Do fun things with them that don’t include alcohol like movie nights, board games or nature walks
  • Make healthy snacks and meals for them– eating well in pregnancy is important and healthy foods may reduce the impact of alcohol on a fetus
  • Encourage them to get pre-natal care (regular check-ups during pregnancy) – Pre-natal care helps reduce the risk of FASD and other problems in pregnancy
  • Help them get to and from appointments
  • Share resources like phone lines, Teen Clinics, the Mothering Project or Motherrisk – They may not be ready to stop drinking but they may be ready to explore what that could look like and ways to keep the fetus healthier if they do continue to drink
  • Ask them how you can best support them

 

Supporting someone in our life who is struggling with substance use can be pretty tough and upsetting at times.  It’s important that you make time for yourself and to get your own help. The Klinic Crisis Line is available 24/7 and is free to call from anywhere in Manitoba. Their number is 1.888.322.3019 or 204.786.8686.

Questions About FASD

I’ve been drinking for a long time and I don’t think I can quit. I want to keep the baby. What should I do?

While there is no known safe time or amount of alcohol to have during a pregnancy, we also know quitting alcohol may not be easy for everyone. If you don’t feel ready or able to stop using completely, then try to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. Drinking less can help reduce your risk for FASD.

If you are deciding to continue a pregnancy and are struggling with drinking you can get help and support to have the healthiest pregnancy possible. Talk with someone you trust like a family member, counsellor, someone at a health centre, elder or the Teen Clinic. Make sure you make and attend prenatal care (regular check-ups during pregnancy ) appointments. A Teen Clinic or your local health centre can help with this. Pre-natal care helps reduce the risk of FASD and other problems in pregnancy. It’s also important to try and eat healthy meals and snacks as healthy foods may reduce the impact of alcohol in a fetus as it develops.

If you are in Winnipeg, check out the Mothering Project at Mount Carmel Clinic. They offer non-judgmental prenatal care support for people who are pregnant and drinking. From anywhere in Canada you can call the Motherrisk Alcohol and Substance phone line for more information and support during a pregnancy, 1-877-327-4636.

My friend drank all the time while they were pregnant and the baby is fine. What happened?

When it comes to drinking, pregnancy and FASD it’s about risk. While it is possible for someone to drink a lot while pregnant and not have a baby with FASD, it’s also possible for someone to only have a few drinks during the pregnancy and have a baby that does have FASD. There is no known safe amount of alcohol that can be used while pregnant.  Other things like prenatal care and healthy foods during pregnancy may reduce the impact of alcohol on the fetus. However, we do know that generally the more alcohol someone who is pregnant drinks, and the more often they drink, the greater the chances of harm to the fetus. If you are pregnant, the safest thing for the fetus is to stop drinking.

The other thing to consider is that someone may have FASD but it may not be obvious. FASD is sometimes called a “hidden” or “invisible” condition because most people affected do not have noticeable physical features. It may take until the child is a little older or in school for the mental or behavioral affects to be noticed. FASD is something that is diagnosed by a specialist. If someone drank during pregnancy and is concerned about their child’s development, they should contact FASD Manitoba.

If you are pregnant, the safest thing for the fetus is to stop drinking. If you are deciding to continue a pregnancy and are struggling with drinking you can get help and support to have the healthiest pregnancy possible. Talk with someone you trust like a family member, counsellor, someone at a health centre, elder or a Teen Clinic.

If you are in Winnipeg, check out the Mothering Project at Mount Carmel Clinic. They offer non-judgmental prenatal care support for people who are pregnant and drinking. From anywhere in Canada you can call the Motherrisk Alcohol and Substance phone line for more information and support during a pregnancy, 1-877-327-4636.

I just found out I'm pregnant and got drunk before I knew. I want to have it, but will the baby be ok?

Because there is no known safe amount of alcohol that can be used while pregnant we can’t tell you one way or another what the risk to your fetus might be. What we can say is that because it’s usually a few weeks before someone notices the signs of a pregnancy, especially an unplanned pregnancy, it’s not an uncommon experience for someone to drink before they know they are pregnant. That’s why it’s important to take a pregnancy test as soon as you think you may be pregnant.

We’d suggest talking openly and honestly with your health care provider about when and how much your drank. It’s their job to answer your questions without judgement. If you don’t yet have a health provider check out a Teen Clinic or visit your closest health centre. You can also call the Motherrisk Alcohol and Substance Use Helpline, 1-877-327-4636. It’s free to call and they offer confidential counselling and information.

I get that alcohol may cause FASD, but how do other drugs affect a pregnancy?

It really depends of the situation and the drug. Because different types of substances affect us differently, they may also affect a pregnancy in a different way. It may also depend on how much is being used. There are other factors too such as the level of prenatal care (pregnancy health check-ups) and how much healthy foods are being eaten.

Motherrisk is a website where you can learn more about substance use and pregnancy They also have a phone line, the Alcohol and Substance Use Helpline, 1-877-327-4636 . You can call them to ask specific questions about the substances you are using. The service is confidential. You can also visit a teen clinic to get more information.