FASD Update and Prevention Initiatives

Photo Credit: Free stock photo from Stock Snap user.

Photo Credit: Free stock photo from Stock Snap user.

CBC online posted an article on September 4, 2016 UBC-led researchers uncover genetic effects of FASD, by Linda Givetash, reporting that Canadian researchers “are one step closer to uncovering a biomarker associated with FASD after identifying distinct patterns associated with the DNA of children who were exposed to alcohol in the womb”.  The investigation is led by UBC researchers and has analyzed DNA samples from 110 children with FASD across Canada.  The study used data collected through the Kids Brain Health Network and the findings were published this past summer in the journal Epigenetics and Chromatin.

The study co-author, Dr. Elodie Portales-Casamar, said that the research team found that “methylation, a process that affects how genes behave”, differed for children who have FASD.  She said, “researchers have found consistent, statistically significant patterns of methylation unique to the children who were exposed to alcohol before birth compared to those who were not…It appears that some of the genes that are differentially methylated between the FASD kids and the control (group) appear to be involved in neurodevelopment and brain development and such.”

We also look at a two initiatives that encourage men to play an active role in supporting their partner to have an alcohol-free pregnancy.

The Saskatchewan Prevention Institute has produced an information page for men on their website.  Starting from the premise that dads have an influence and can make a difference, they point out that fathers play an important role in the prevention of FASD and raising healthy children.

They talk about how research has shown that partners have similar drinking patterns, and that “women find it more difficult to reduce or stop their drinking when their partner disagrees with the decision.”  Several studies show that if the father reduces or stops drinking, his partner is more likely to do the same and that if he has drug and alcohol-related problems, his partner is almost four times more likely to drink alcohol.  Research shows “77% of women who drink during pregnancy drink with their partners.  Up to 75% of children born with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) have biological fathers who are heavy drinkers.”

The site includes background reading information directed towards fathers:

  • To help men realize the significance of avoiding alcohol in pregnancy, in order to ensure a best chance for children.
  • To offer a list of suggestions on how to take action to help ensure a safe pregnancy.

The help suggestions would be great starting points for discussion in fathering groups and include:

  • Questions to think about
  • Suggestions for having supportive discussions with one’s partner around avoiding alcohol during pregnancy
  • A suggestion to give up alcohol for a period of time (e.g. 9 days, 2 weeks, or longer) in order to understand what it is like for one’s partner to quit.
  • Recipe suggestions in order to make sure there are non-alcoholic drinks available
  • Suggestions for alcohol-free fun activities

The Institute has produced two posters featuring a father and his infant child, with the messaging “This is why I supported her not to drink.”  They also provide links to other materials for fathers.

CanFASD have also developed a twelve-point guide What Men Can Do to Help to encourage men to get involved in supporting women to avoid alcohol during pregnancy.

  1. Take a ‘pregnant pause’. “Whether it’s for a month, three months or the entire pregnancy, remaining alcohol-free can be helpful and encouraging for many women.”
  2. Be a good host. “When entertaining friends or family or having a night out, offer non-alcoholic beverages and avoid pressuring women to drink (pregnant or not)…. “
  3. Minimize harms. “ …our drinking habits are shaped by those around us. Support a ‘culture of moderation’ by taking a look at your own drinking and working to minimize any harmful effects that your own drinking might have on yourself or others. Taking a look at Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines is a good place to start (ccsa.ca)”
  4. Help change negative perceptions. “When talking about FASD and alcohol use during pregnancy, avoid being critical of women who do drink during pregnancy or blame women for not caring about their babies or for being ignorant….”
  5. Be compassionate. “…Assume that women are doing the best they can and let them know that you’re willing to help when they’re ready to make a change.”
  6. Be an active role model. “… Support pregnant women by telling family, friends, and anyone offering her alcohol that there is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy and no safe amount.”
  7. Support pregnant women no matter what. “… Respect the choices that women make to keep themselves and their babies healthy….”
  8. Remember that healthy babies need healthy mothers. “… Support women’s health before, during, and after pregnancy. “
  9. Remember that FASD affects everyone. “… Remind people that FASD occurs wherever pregnant women drink alcohol …”
  10. Think big. “… Addiction is widespread in our society and is often a concern before pregnancy. Advocate for a range of treatment options in your community and encourage services to prioritize access to services for pregnant women with addiction concerns.”
  11. Get involved in preventing violence. “Current or past experiences of violence are one of the major reasons a woman continues to drink during pregnancy. Recognize and speak out against all forms of violence. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Question your own attitudes.  Lead by example.”
  12. Plan ahead. “… Be involved in making decisions about birth control and support your partner in making choices that are healthy for her and that are right for your relationship. When you’re ready for fatherhood, take some time to think about the role of alcohol in your life and your partner’s life: In what ways is alcohol part of my life now? How will alcohol be part of my life as a father? Babies need healthy fathers, too.”