DRINKING in pregnancy still causes 30% of birth defects and developmental disorders

It’s startling in this day and age to realize that the drinking habits of mothers-to-be are still the leading preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disorders in the United States.

Hawai`i recognized “International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day” with the rest of the world on September 9 with a proclamation issued by Governor Neil Abercrombie, as an important reminder that the simple act of quitting drinking during pregnancy can preserve the health of the unborn and the suffering those with developmental disorders and birth defects can endure.

Four decades of knowledge
Almost 40 years have passed since we recognized that drinking during pregnancy can result in a wide range of disabilities for children, of which fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most severe. Yet up to 30% of women report drinking alcohol during pregnancy, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie this week was joined by Hawai`i Department of Health (DOH) Child and Youth Program Specialist Naomi Imai, M.Ed., to formally proclaim Sept. 9 as “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day.” The DOH Family Health Services Division is partnering with the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Task Force to raise awareness through bus advertisements and other means about the effects of the disorders and to encourage and empower communities to implement prevention activities.

Remember this simple message: All nine months of pregnancy should be alcohol-free for the health of your child.

The disabilities associated with drinking in pregnancy
The disabilities associated with drinking during pregnancy can persist throughout life and place heavy emotional and financial burdens on individuals, their families, and society. There is a distinct pattern of facial features associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, such as wide-set and narrow eyes, a smooth ridge on the upper lip, and a thin upper lip border. We now understand, however, that the neurobehavioral effects associated with the disorder, such as intellectual disabilities, speech and language delays, and poor social skills, can exist without the classic defining facial characteristics.

For many years, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has supported research to understand how alcohol exposure during pregnancy interferes with fetal development and how FASD can be identified and prevented. Scientists continue to make tremendous strides, providing important new insights into the nature of FASD and potential intervention and treatment strategies.

The message those gathering in the Governor’s office and elsewhere communicated is simple, not just on Sept. 9, but every day. There is no known safe level of drinking while pregnant. Women who are, who may be, or who are trying to become pregnant, should not drink alcohol.

About the National Institutes of Health
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, is the primary U.S. agency for conducting and supporting research on the causes, consequences, prevention, and treatment of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol problems. NIAAA also disseminates research findings to general, professional, and academic audiences. Additional alcohol research information and publications are available at http://www.niaaa.nih.gov.

Photo courtesy the Office of Governor Neil Abercrombie. Mahalo to the governor’s press office for assistance in this story.

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