An Alcohol-Free Pregnancy is the Best Choice for a Healthy Pregnancy

KNOW THE FACTS ABOUT ALCOHOL AND PREGNANCY AND HELP SPREAD THE MESSAGE

WASHINGTON, DC – In observance of April’s Alcohol Awareness Month, the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) is raising awareness about the risk of prenatal alcohol exposure and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). FASD is a set of lifelong physical, mental, and behavioral impairments that can occur in an individual prenatally exposed to alcohol.

NOFAS is also recognizing National Alcohol Screening Day (NASD) on April 11. NASD is an outreach, education, and screening initiative that raises awareness about harmful and dependent drinking behaviors and connects individuals who are at risk with treatment options. NOFAS believes screening for alcohol use should be a part of a routine doctor visit so potential alcohol use disorders can be identified at an early stage.

NOFAS is urging attention to the risk of drinking during pregnancy and FASD because of the many misconceptions surrounding the topics. Some myths are that FASD is a rare disorder (it is not, up to one in 20 school-age children may have FASD), occasional drinking won’t harm a baby (measurable harm might not occur in some offspring, but it might in others), third trimester drinking is safe (incorrect, disabilities can result from exposure at any stage of human development), experts disagree about whether pregnant women should abstain from alcohol (not true, all medical and health societies, research universities and institutes, federal and state agencies, and advocacy organizations like NOFAS advise abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy), and minority, lower socio-economic women with less education are more likely to have a child with an FASD (you guessed it, all false).

Perhaps the greatest uncertainty or controversy surrounds alcohol and pregnancy public health information. Some people interpret health-related advice as patronizing or shaming and they find them offensive.

NOFAS understands that some might be resistant to any message to abstain from alcohol because drinking is part of their lifestyle. NOFAS President, Tom Donaldson, says the advice to avoid alcohol when pregnant is not a finger-pointing warning or admonition, but an advisory grounded in the best available science. If each woman, and her partner, family, and friends, has access to accurate information she can make the best decision for her baby.

While most mothers-to-be in the US stop drinking, about 10 percent of pregnancies are exposed to some alcohol and three percent to binge drinking, highlighting the importance of public health messages and improved access to screening for risky alcohol use, including any alcohol use during pregnancy, and treatment for substance use disorders.  

As NOFAS Vice President Kathy Mitchell often says, “No woman intends to harm her baby. If a woman drinks during pregnancy, it’s most likely because she doesn’t know she’s pregnant, she has an addiction and can’t stop drinking on her own, or she doesn’t have accurate information about the risk.”

The risk of FASD is determined by the frequency and pattern of alcohol exposure, the health and nutritional status of the mother, and unknown genetic factors. As with exposure to tobacco smoke and other harmful substances, it is not completely understood why one pregnancy is more vulnerable to prenatal alcohol exposure than another. What is known is that alcohol is a human teratogen, a substance known to harm fetal development.

NOFAS Media Director, Andy Kachor adds, “The lack of knowledge about the alcohol and pregnancy risk and the consequences of addiction are two reasons why screening for alcohol use disorders is essential, and why we need to get the information out to all audiences through all available media channels.” He concludes, “Approximately half the pregnancies in the US are unplanned and many women don’t know they are pregnant for the first few weeks or more, so abstaining from all alcohol while trying to get pregnant is the risk-free approach. Given the cultural sensitivity around pregnancy, women’s health, and addiction, it’s important to use language that is non-stigmatizing, supportive, and empowering rather than messages that condescend to pregnant women and anyone with a stake in these issues.

During April’s Alcohol Awareness Month, NOFAS urges the expansion of alcohol screening in clinical settings and the ongoing dissemination of accurate information about alcohol and pregnancy, and encourages expectant mothers and their partners to have a healthy, alcohol-free pregnancy!

NOFAS is a public health advocacy organization that works to prevent prenatal exposure to alcohol, drugs, and other substances known to harm fetal development by raising awareness and supporting women before and during their pregnancy. NOFAS also supports individuals, families, and communities living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), and other preventable intellectual/developmental disabilities. For more information, visit www.NOFAS.org.