09/24/2013 10:40 EDT | Updated 11/24/2013 05:12 EST

Thunder Bay bar unveils pregnancy test dispenser

A Thunder Bay bar is now first in Canada to offer pregnancy tests in its women's washroom.

The dispenser installed at The Outpost at Lakehead University was provided by the group Healthy Brains for Children with the hope of preventing future cases of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder [FASD].

Charmaine Romaniuk, vice-president of the Lakehead University Student Union said although the idea seemed odd at first, it actually fits in with other health promotion initiatives on campus, including providing condoms.

She hopes the vending machine will be a more effective prevention tool than the posters traditionally displayed in bar washrooms warning of the dangers of drinking while pregnant.

"Posters are great. You could see them, you can understand the message, you'd be like, 'oh I don't want to drink while I'm pregnant,’” Romaniuk said.

“But the dispenser provides immediate action, so you don't have to go to a pharmacy and wait until the next day. You could ... [test] right now if you wondered."

The shiny pink and white vending machine took third-year Bachelor of Arts and Education student Liberty Wilson by surprise when she went into the campus bar's washroom on Monday.

"I would have expected ... maybe condoms or something else, but not a pregnancy test dispenser in a bar," she laughed.

But after thinking about it, Wilson said the dispenser was probably a good idea.

"Some people don't feel comfortable going to a drug store and buying them, so they can just sneak into the bathroom and use one. So it makes sense,” she said.

At $3 per test, they're also less expensive than pregnancy tests from the pharmacy.

Marilyn Leiterman of Healthy Brains for Children said the eye-catching dispensing machine provides much more than tests.

“The awareness component ... is huge,” she said. “It's absolutely crucial."

Leiterman said she hopes seeing the dispenser will prompt women to learn about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and to think about whether there's any possibility they could be pregnant before drinking.

The devastating effect of FASD is something she knows all too well, Leiterman said.

"I have a little foster son that has full-blown fetal alcohol syndrome," she said. "I had him since [he was] a newborn. And I had this tiny baby that wouldn't sleep, wouldn't eat, he was stiff, he couldn't hug ... He was in distress all the time."

Now 10 years old, Leiterman said her foster son will struggle for the rest of his life because of the damage FASD did to his brain.

"This didn't have to happen," she said. "For every baby that we can prevent ... from getting fetal alcohol syndrome, I'm thrilled."

Leiterman said she has been lobbying to place pregnancy test dispensers in bars for almost two years.

Although The Outpost in Thunder Bay is the first to do it in Canada, the buzz has prompted bars in other cities to express interest, she said.