Sask. Prevention Institute encouraging supportive environments for pregnant mothers to prevent FASD

A group of supporters march throughout downtown Saskatoon raising awareness for FASD on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. – Owen Woytowich/Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The Saskatchewan Prevention Institute is encouraging communities to facilitate supportive environments to help women navigate through alcohol consumption and pregnancy.

That’s its main message for International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day on Saturday.

“It’s very stigmatized and complex,” said Soumya Mishra, FASD prevention program coordinator.

“We want to ask people to create a supportive environment where they can look beyond it as a personal choice.”

FASD is a neuro-developmental disorder caused from prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcohol interferes with the development of a baby’s brain and other organs, causing challenges related to memory, learning, communication, motor skills and physical health, such as vision.

Around half of Canadian pregnancies are unintended, said Mishra – and many don’t even know they’re pregnant until after they’ve consumed alcohol.

Still, Mishra said there are several reasons someone might drink while pregnant.

“It can happen to anyone who is consuming alcohol,” she emphasized.

“There’s peer pressure…there could be mental health challenges. There could be houselessness, poverty, so many reasons and environmental factors.”

Mishra said it’s also difficult for some to cut out alcohol overnight.

When mothers aren’t blamed, but rather feel supported, they’re more likely to be able to reduce or cut out alcohol, explained Mishra.

The Saskatchewan Prevention Institute is encouraging communities to participate in spreading awareness about FASD. This could include education, sharing stories of people with FASD, organizing alcohol-free events and hosting walks, webinars or workshops for people to learn.

Mishra said there’s also mixed messaging about alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

“Some say it is okay to consume so and so amount of alcohol, this amount of alcohol won’t hurt, but there is no proven research that says there is a certain type of alcohol and a certain amount of alcohol can not (have an) impact,” she said.

It’s recommended for women to refrain from alcohol entirely while pregnant; however, “we do not live in an ideal world,” reads the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute’s website.

Saying FASD is 100 per cent preventable can lead to judgement and guilt, it says.

FASD is a life-long disability affecting about four per cent of Canadians.

Stigma and lack of understanding intensifies the struggles of those with FASD, and not just the mother, said Mishra.