Pregnancy, Alcohol and FASD
This is a post with a difference. As most of you know my normal blog posts are about miscarriage but today I am shaking it up a little to write about FASD.
September 9th 2020 is Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day. This is a day to raise awareness of the harm that drinking when pregnant can cause. This day was chosen (9/9) to represent the 9 months of pregnancy.
As with most disorders you cannot tell someone has FASD by looking at them. FASD is a disorder than can affect an unborn baby when the mother drinks alcohol while pregnant. These affects are lifelong. FASDs refer to a collection of diagnoses that represent the range of effects that can happen as a result of drinking alcohol while pregnant. NOFAS UK states on their website that “FASD is an umbrella term that covers Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND), Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD), Foetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) and partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS).”
Alcohol drank by the mother can pass through the umbilical cord and straight into the baby’s bloodstream. The baby’s liver cannot filter out the toxins and these toxins can affect the development of the baby especially the baby’s brain.
Characteristics of FASD can include:
- A small head
- Poor growth
- Movement and balance problems
- Heart problems
- Kidney issues
- Limb damage
- Visual and auditory issues
- Facial features, such as a flat nasal bridge, thin upper lip and a smooth philtrum (this is seen in less than 10% of those on the FASD Spectrum)
- Social issues
- Poor judgement/impulse control
- Learning difficulties including forgetfulness
- Concentration difficulties
A person with FASD may only have a couple of these characteristics whilst another person may have a lot of them.
Living with FASD
I spoke with a young adult who has been diagnosed with FASD. Jade told me that she can get angry easily, she can get very triggered over the slightest things. She will keep making mistakes and doesn’t really learn from it, she has little concept of cause and effect. She said “I argue with my fiancé and don’t realize it might cause a break up until he says it, and then I feel terrible because I failed to identify that my actions may cause repercussions.”
A teenager with ARND I spoke to said “I find it hard with my emotions, when I get angry, it’s hard to control it. I have to work harder at school, to put more effort in, to understand things like maths.”
Living with someone with FASD
I have spoken with a few parents of children with FASD and the consensus is that bringing up a child with FASD is hard and carries an enormous amount of guilt.
One parent disclosed how they are physically and emotionally attacked by their child for the littlest of things. Their child can be loving one moment and abusive the next with no real trigger. Their child will also attack siblings meaning that they can not be left in a room alone together.
“Having a child with FASD is like living with a 9 stone puppy! Our child is someone who brings a huge amount of joy into our world but who at the same time is frustrating as they will forget to brush their teeth or eat their lunch. As a consequence I have strict routines in place and we are working closely with the school to ensure that H is eating whilst in school.”
“I have to make sure my 13 year old is accompanied to and from school. The danger of her getting in a car with a stranger is very real. She has no awareness of danger.”
“My child wants to hug everyone and climb on their lap, it was cute when they were 4 but as a teenager now I need to constantly remind them that it is not appropriate.”
“My adopted daughter tells the most horrific lies, she told the school that I beat her with a saucepan. We were called in by the school and investigated by Children’s Services. Luckily they both determined that my child lied.”
Lots of parents of children diagnosed with FASD comment on the lies. Some people argue that the child doesn’t necessarily lie but more than likely tries to fill in missing pieces with information that they think is relevant or is wanted.
“I have to remind myself that my child has FASD. My child drives me up the wall, I tell her off for behaving in a certain way and then I feel guilty because I remember that she sees the world in a completely different way and probably didn’t understand what happened.”
It is estimated that at least 5% of the UK population has FASD. FASD is 100% preventable. Please do not even consider drinking whilst pregnant. With education we can get that figure much, much lower. I know that I was told (by a midwife) many moons ago that it was ok to drink near the end of the 9 months as the baby was fully developed. This is nonsense and needs to stop.
There is no cure for someone with FASD. There are medications that may help with the behavioural side of things. Many parents put strategies in place to help their children function on a day to day basis, referring to these strategies as an external brain. Many children with FASD may act half their age and can be vulnerable so need additional support both in school and at home.
For more information on FASD please visit NOFAS UK.
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