Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, September 18, 2015

Alcohol Avoidance in Pregnancy

"We suspect that there are kids being raised in biological families whose FASD [fetal alcohol spectrum disorder] is not being reported because of stigma."
"We have made some significant progress in the past decade, but nothing about FASD is simple."
Professor James Reynolds, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

"It [mother's drinking impacting on baby] will always have an impact, but you can't predict because it depends on individual differences -- nutrition, stress levels, exercise and other unknowns."
"That's why the bottom line is zero. Pregnant women shouldn't be drinking alcohol at all."
Professor Kim Hellemans, neurosciences, Carleton University, Ottawa

"There isn't enough information out there for women to understand that alcohol can cause damage to their unborn child. The only way to get rid of stigma is to have people admit it. It's the child we want to help, not to judge the mother."
"These kids don't learn behaviours. You have to get in their face and even then they will do the same thing over and over again. They are also dealing with teachers who don't understand them -- and they're getting frustrated too."
"We are all ignorant of these children and their deficits. It's taken me 17 years of reading up on it to finally understand my son."
Brenda Boylan, adoptive mother of two FASD teens
Doctor talking with mom and two daughters

It is well enough accepted in the public realm of knowledge that in pregnancy women who drink heavily do so at a dreadful cost to the child they will deliver. It is a life sentence, leaving a child to cope with the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. It is a profound disability, affecting different people differently, but leaving all those affected by it to struggle with its effects on their ability to manage their lives.

These children may be gifted with extraordinary intelligence, or be left with low intelligence; irrespective, life becomes a struggle because they see and understand what they are exposed to differently than non-FASD-affected people. Social cues that are routine for most people simply pass FASD people aside; they take statements for their literal meaning and act accordingly, and when they act they cannot foresee the consequences of what they commit to.

Typically, FASD afflicted children are hyperactive, and obsessive about their needs. Learning disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder may complicate their lives, although symptoms vary from person to person. Health Canada estimates that roughly nine in one thousand Canadian babies are born affected by their mothers having used alcohol during pregnancy; an invisible brain injury results since most who are afflicted appear 'normal'; their difference masked by fluid speech.

What is new in the scientific-medical understanding of the source of FASD however, is the conclusion that it isn't just pregnant women who drink copious amounts of alcohol who place the child they are carrying at risk, but any women who drinks any amount of alcohol, however seemingly innocuous. And, since a baby's nervous system begins to develop at the earliest stages of pregnancy sometimes women are not yet aware they're pregnant, when they drink.

Professor Reynolds of Queen's is involved in FASD research, with a national, multi-disciplinary research group focusing on early detection of pre-natal alcohol exposure and in the kinds of interventions that are capable of improving quality of life for FASD-affected children. The research network, NeuroDevNet is set to hold its annual Brain Development Conference in Ottawa, shortly. One firm understanding in the medical community now is: no drinking; none at all, during pregnancy.

As yet no simple medical marker such as a blood test exists to reveal the presence of FASD. It can be confused with other disorders which have similar symptoms, such as ADHD. Hours of testing are required for neuro-psychologists to be able to diagnose FASD, and to rate cognitive abilities. What is known however, is that the earlier the diagnosis is made, the more possible that intervention can be of practical use.

A person with an FASD might have:
  • Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip (this ridge is called the philtrum)
  • Small head size
  • Shorter-than-average height
  • Low body weight
  • Poor coordination
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Difficulty with attention
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty in school (especially with math)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech and language delays
  • Intellectual disability or low IQ
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Sleep and sucking problems as a baby
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones
  • CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC 24/7: Saving Lives. Protecting People.

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