SIMCOE, AUGUST 31, 2012 – Pregnant women often have long “to-do” lists throughout their pregnancy, including tasks such as scheduling doctor appointments, preparing the nursery, and taking prenatal vitamins. The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is encouraging all expectant mothers, and women planning to become pregnant, to add an important “don’t” to their list.
“If women drink when they are pregnant, they are putting their babies at risk of permanent brain damage,” explained Angela Swick, Public Health Nurse with the Health Unit. “The best way to help give your baby a healthy start is to have an alcohol-free pregnancy.”
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, commonly referred to as FASD, is the most common form of preventable brain damage to infants in North America. FASD is a combination of physical and mental birth defects that may develop in children whose mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, FASD affects approximately 300,000 people living in Canada. FASD is not isolated to any specific population group, as it touches all social classes and ethnic groups and exists in communities both large and small throughout Canada and the world.
FASD symptoms vary greatly. Some children with FASD will have distinct facial characteristics, and may be smaller in size and weight. Those affected by FASD may also have a hard time learning and controlling their behaviour. Other common problems include trouble adding, subtracting and handling money and difficulty thinking things through, learning from experience, understanding consequences of their actions and getting along with others.
“People affected by FASD often have special needs that require lifelong help,” noted Swick. “They may have difficulties with paying rent and buying food, making changes in their behaviour, interacting with people socially and keeping a job.”
FASD cannot be cured, so affected people live with the disorder their entire life. However, people with FASD can still do very well with supports and services. Some examples include special education, vocational programs, tutors, structured environments and lifelong care. They can find paid work or go to school if given special assistance.
“The good news is that FASD can be entirely prevented,” Swick emphasized. “Alcohol use during pregnancy is the only cause for this disability. If you are planning a pregnancy or not using reliable birth control, avoid alcohol.”
The Health Unit also encourages friends, family and community members to all help a pregnant woman abstain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
International FASD Awareness Day is observed every year on Sept. 9. The ninth day of the ninth month was chosen to illustrate that during the nine months of pregnancy a woman should abstain from alcohol.
To raise local awareness of FASD, the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Advocacy Committee, of which the Health Unit is a member, is holding a barbecue fundraiser on Sept. 7 at Sobeys, 438 Norfolk St., S. in Simcoe between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
More information on FASD, or the barbecue, can be found at www.hnhu.org or by calling the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit at 519-426-6170 Ext. 3201 or 905-318-6623 Ext. 3201.
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Angela Swick R.N, BScN
Public Health Nurse
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3201 at either 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623