International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day
The first International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day was organized on September 9, 1999. Across the world, bells rang on the ninth day of the ninth month to symbolize that women should not drink during their nine months of pregnancy. Just last December, the Ontario Legislation declared September 9 as FASD Awareness Day.
Why is it important to designate a day for awareness and prevention? Obviously you need to be aware of an issue to mobilize and affect behavior. Secondly, the incidence of FASD is rising. Initially, we estimated 9 babies out of every 1000 are born with FASD in Canada. The incidence is now estimated to be that between 2 and 5 out of every 1000 babies born in Canada are now affected by FASD. According to 2016 statistics, if we have a population of 231,700 people living in Northwestern Ontario, we could have between 4,600 and 11,600 individuals affected by FASD in this region. People with FASD often have difficulties with learning, memory, attention and problem solving, as well as problems with mental health and social interaction.
Perhaps the incidence is rising because of the awareness of FASD. If this is the case, then this is a good thing. The earlier FASD is suspected and diagnosed increases the likelihood of better outcomes. The more we become aware of issues, the more we strategize to deal them and mobilize to increase individual and community capacity to deal with these issues.
We know there is no safe amount or type of alcohol to drink while you are pregnant. For a pregnancy to be alcohol-free there must be a supportive environment for pregnant women. If it takes a village to raise a child, should the village not be there during pregnancy as well? The model of health and wellbeing at the heart of the Community Health Centres recognises the importance of belonging as a determinant of longevity and good health. Think about what you can do to help pregnant women in your life.
If I had a sister and she was either pregnant or trying to be, I might:
- Offer attractive “mocktails” or several non-alcoholic options at gatherings and dinners
- Hold celebrations in a family setting rather than at a bar
- Join her in not having alcohol so she feels supported
- Substitute any activity that would trigger alcohol consumption with a healthier alternative
- Find some ways for us to wind down and de-stress, perhaps with a walk
- Encourage her in her efforts to have a safe and healthy pregnancy
- I would ask her what I could do to help her have a healthy baby
- Be there to offer support when she was having a hard time
Think about your personal situation and the pregnant women in your life - there is a lot you can do.
NorWest Community Health Centres has been involved in a yearly FASD Awareness Day event with the FASD Coalition partners since 2002. In September 2013, we began a partnership with The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) to increase awareness of FASD. The LCBO has supported the development of educational material on alcohol use during pregnancy and has featured this material in their stores for years. Now in our 6th year, staff and volunteers from the Children's Aid Society of the District of Thunder Bay, the Children's Centre Thunder Bay, and Dilico Anishinabek Family Care, Fetal Alcohol Support and Information Network are helping NorWest share an FASD awareness message with Thunder Bay residents. On Friday September 7, you will find us at each of the four LCBO locations in Thunder Bay from 12 noon to 6 pm.
NorWest Community Health Centres is committed to education, prevention and diagnosis with regard to FASD and provides a variety of FASD-specific services and programming. For information about our FASD programs and services, contact Maureen Parkes, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Coordinator at NorWest Community Health Centres, at (807) 626-8485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anita Jean is Manager of Health and Social Programs at the NorWest Community Health Centres.
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