Before I became a foster parent 8 years ago, all I knew about FASD was what I read on the poster in the doctor’s office. The poster said, “Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may cause birth defects.” I remember thinking in my ignorance/innocence, that surely no one would even chance it! It seemed inconceivable to me that someone would drink alcohol and risk harming their baby.
I was wrong!
Fast forward a couple of years to when I became a foster parent and I had my eyes opened to really see how many kids are born with FASD. My world was now filled with babies where the odds were against them and their mother’s drinking didn’t just ‘may cause birth defects’ it DID cause birth defects. In the city where my husband and I were foster parents, we were told that 80-90% of children in care would be born affected by alcohol. This number shocked me, but sadly I soon found out it was not wrong.
But what does having FASD mean?
Drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy causes the baby’s brain and organs to develop a little differently than they should have. Now, sometimes this won’t significantly affect the normal development of the baby. I’m sure we all know someone that drank alcohol during their pregnancy and their child is totally fine. But sometimes the effect will be great. Some of the effects I have seen in the children with FASD are low muscle tone, they just seem to reach their rolling over, crawling, and walking milestones later than other children. Extreme irritability is another common effect, we had one baby that if we weren’t holding her she was crying. Some are unable to learn to suck properly and also unable to figure out how to move food from the front of their mouths to the back to swallow. Many have been unable to understand the consequences of their actions, they could be hyperactive or have a lack of impulse control. Learning is made difficult due to memory issues, speech and language difficulties, and learning disabilities.
9 Facts About FASD That You Needs to Know
- A person with FASD is an innocent victim. They will face many challenges in their life and it’s not their fault. FASD is a lifelong brain injury.
- FASD is often an invisible disability. While there are facial features associated with FASD, they only occur in 10% of cases.
- FASD is a spectrum disorder. No 2 people with FASD will present the same way or respond to treatment in the same manner. Researchers have found 400 different diagnoses and problems associated with a FASD.
- Often people with FASD have an IQ in the normal range, but memory issues and processing disorders can make learning difficult.
- FASD is a permanent disorder. While there are strategies that can be learned that will make life easier, a child born with prenatal exposure to alcohol will live with it for the rest of their lives.
- No amount of alcohol is safe. While there are still doctors and midwives out there that say that having a glass of alcohol occasionally during pregnancy is safe, it is not worth the risk!
- While FASD was once considered a ‘poor person’s disorder’ studies have now shown that the demographic with the most incidences of babies born affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol is middle-class Caucasian mothers. But sadly due to the stigma of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, many moms won’t admit to drinking or the doctor won’t even ask. This leads to many children being misdiagnosed or living their lives without a diagnosis.
- FASD is more common than most people realize. It is more prevalent than autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, and sudden infant death syndrome COMBINED, yet it is less recognized than all of these. More supports are needed for both the people affected and their families.
- FASD is totally 100% preventable and yet wherever alcohol is sold FASD exists. Do not drink if you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant.
I found, as a mom with small kids of my own, that I had an extremely hard time coming to grips with the fact that a mom could do this to her own child. I couldn’t fathom this. These babies are at the most vulnerable time in their lives and I could not understand how any mom could betray their baby’s trust so horribly. In time, though, I came to the realization that NO mom purposefully hurts her child. As I got to know the moms and as I read and learned all I could about FASD, I learned that there are several reasons that FASD still occurs. Often it happens because of an unintentional pregnancy; 50% of pregnancies are unplanned in North America, by the time a mom realizes she is pregnant the damage may be already done. There still seems to be a lack of education regarding the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, with many doctors and midwives still saying it’s fine in moderation. Or perhaps the mother has FASD herself and therefore cannot understand the consequences of her actions.
FASD has been around since alcohol was discovered, but it is only now that people are really starting to talk about it and researching the effects of alcohol on the unborn child. FASD is still difficult to diagnose as it presents differently in every person. Many people are misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed and therefore are lacking the supports they need to lead a healthy, normal lifestyle.