Thursday, September 8 2011

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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a term used to cover a spectrum of intellectual, physical and developmental disabilities which may result from drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

9th September is International FASD Day, a day that aims to raise awareness of the risks for an unborn child from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. It is marked by 9 seconds of reflection on the 9th September at 9:09am. As the sun rises in the east, this special event begins in New Zealand, then Australia, South Africa, Europe and across North America to conclude in the west.

Alcohol is a teratogen and a neurotoxin i.e. an agent that is known to negatively affect fetal development and cause birth defects and brain damage.

Alcohol crosses the placenta freely and produces equivalent concentrations in fetal circulation (blood) to that in the mother. Alcohol can restrict the baby’s growth; impair brain cells development and interrupt cell migration as the baby grows. This brain damage results in behaviour and learning problems in childhood which persist through adolescence and the adult years. While affected individuals may be helped, there is no cure.

What’s the Risk?

Researchers have not yet agreed on lowest and safest amount which will not cause harm to the developing baby during pregnancy. So, there is no safe time to drink during pregnancy. What is known is that the risk of damage increases the more you drink and that binge drinking is especially harmful.

The impact

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a fairly rare condition caused by heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Babies with this condition have abnormal facial features and are smaller than average.

More common is Neurodevelopmental Disorder (Alcohol Exposed) which is estimated to affect 1 of every 100 babies born in developed nations and is an outcome from less heavy alcohol use in pregnancy, what we might call social drinking.

For more information on FASD check out or

I was pregnant and didn’t know

About 50 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned and it is common for parents to not know they are pregnant until after the first missed period. Don’t panic if you have been drinking. Stopping drinking at any time increases the chance of a healthy pregnancy.

Discuss this with your doctor or midwife who will be able to advise you further. It is great to let them know so that they can consider this in your pregnancy health plan. Alternatively, you can contact NOFASARD or the Drug Education Network for advice (see website addresses above).

I am finding it hard to not drink

Pregnancy is a good motivator to reduce or cease alcohol use, however you may find it hard to stop completely depending on your previous drinking levels as well as stresses and triggers for alcohol consumption. Counselling can assist you with developing your own strategies to help you drink less and/or stop alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Having the support of a partner, family and friends can be a great help. So often educating them on the risks of drinking during your pregnancy can increase the support they offer.


It is known that alcohol freely passes into breast milk. During the first year of a baby’s life, the brain is developing at a very rapid rate and alcohol exposure through breast milk still poses a risk. Alcohol can also disturb a baby’s sleep pattern and reduce the mother’s milk supply.

Further Information


For more information, go to or Thank you to Vicki Russell of the Drug Education Network for reviewing this blog.

Image Acknowledgement

Baby washing line by stupidmommy Flickr under a creative commons license

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