PARENTS

More Women Than We Thought Have Babies With Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

You might want to rethink that drink.

08/23/2017 12:59 EDT | Updated 08/23/2017 12:59 EDT

Drinking while pregnant could be doing more harm than anyone has previously believed. According to Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one in every 13 women who consumes alcohol while expecting will have a baby born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

CAMH's findings, which were published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, analyzed 24 existing studies of more than 1,400 children to determine how prevalent FASD is in kids aged 0 to 16 around the world. Globally, they found that nearly eight in 1,000 babies are born with the disorder.

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"FASD prevalence estimates are essential to effectively prioritize and plan health care for children with FASD, who are often misdiagnosed," said Dr. Svetlana Popova, Senior Scientist at CAMH's Institute for Mental Health Policy Research. "Most of these children will require lifelong care, so the earlier they have access to appropriate therapy and supports, the better their long-term health and social outcomes will be."

FASD is considered a brain injury and a lifelong disorder.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a blanket term for all the problems that can happen to an infant when a mother drinks during pregnancy. This includes the commonly heard fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause a baby to have central nervous system disorders, growth problems and abnormal facial features, among other things, according to Baby Center Canada.

FASD is considered a brain injury and a lifelong disorder, since it may not only affect a child's physical abilities, but mental, behavioural and learning abilities as well.

According to the CDC and the U.S. Surgeon General, "There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. There is also no known safe time during pregnancy or safe type of alcohol."

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The analysis done by CAMH determined how common FASD is for children in each country. While it was estimated that there are eight FASD cases for every 1,000 Canadian children, rates are higher in the U.S., with 15 cases for every 1,000 children. Additionally, the European region has nearly 20 per 1,000.

According to the study, children from low-income communities, foster care, psychiatric care, the criminal justice system, and the Aboriginal community were more likely to suffer from FASD.

There are eight FASD cases for every 1,000 Canadian children.

"The findings highlight the need to establish a universal public health message about the potential harm of prenatal alcohol exposure and a routine screening protocol," the study concluded. "Brief interventions should be provided, where appropriate."

Dr. Popova also noted that more attention needs to be paid to communities who are at an increased risk.

"There is a need for targeted screening and diagnosis for these high-risk populations, as well as interventions to prevent alcohol use among mothers of children with FASD in relation to subsequent pregnancies," she said.

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