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FASD: Preventing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

fasd mofas Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Facing the Just One Glass Myth:  Moderation is not prevention.

I remember being pregnant with my first child and feeling a little shocked when my doctor said that I could have “a few beers with my friends, just don’t over do it”.  Fast forward 12 years to child #2 and I thought for sure medical science had changed. After all, we’re told stay away from second hand smoke, don’t get tattoos, don’t eat raw honey – don’t  do anything that might transfer something harmful to your growing child. But, sure enough, my new doctor said basically the same thing.

“If I were you, I’d have a glass of red wine in the evening to calm down the heartburn.” I asked how that could be safe for the baby who would be drinking it with me. She laughed and said, “If you followed every new guideline you’d be miserable your whole pregnancy! Don’t worry, one glass at night is fine.” Luckily, I didn’t listen to her.

fasd mofas Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

I was recently asked, as part of a campaign with Brandfluential, to attend a set of webinars presented by MOFAS (Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) to spread awareness about FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). The first webinar centered around information on what exactly FASD is and how to prevent it, featuring in depth research and information from Jeffrey R. Wozniak, Ph.D., Associate Professor Department of Psychiatry University of Minnesota.

What is FASD?

FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. There are many terms under the FASD umbrella, including these medical diagnoses:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
  • Alcohol Related Neuro-developmental Disorders (ARND)
  • Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
  • Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)

FASD is a lifetime disability that affects each child differently. Some children with an FASD have specific facial features and tend to be smaller in height and weight. They often have brain injury that never goes away. This means both the child’s thought process and his behavior may be very different than a child who was not exposed to alcohol before birth. The brain damage is the most challenging part of this disability.

How Can FASD Be Prevented?

Many of the secondary disorders of FASD (as seen above) can be triggered with as little as ‘one drink’ as early as 7 days into pregnancy. And a single binge drinking incident (4 drinks within 2 hours) can cause profound damage to a developing brain.

jeffrey r wozniak phd
Dr. Jeffrey R. Wozniak, Ph.D., L.P.

With the possibility of a disorder having such a massive impact on a child, why do women still drink? In the US, 13% knowingly drink some alcohol while pregnant. 1% drink heavily while pregnant and 3-4% binge drink during pregnancy.  There is also the problem of defining ‘one glass’. 60 % of women “over-pour” or underestimate the size of a drink and a commonly used ‘balloon’ wine glass actually contains 2 – 3 times more alcohol than a standard drink.

Because of these misconceptions and other issues, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome affects 1 in every 1,000 live births. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (all ranges) affect an estimated 2% – 5% of births. Drinking while pregnant means you are accepting a 2% – 5% risk of your child having FASD. Many people also have the misconception of ‘They drink all the time in Europe and they’re okay.” In reality, the rate for FASD in Italy is even higher – as much as 6.3% of all births.

institute of medicine affects of alcohol on pregnancy

The only way to prevent FASD is to completely avoid alcohol while you are pregnant, if you are attempting to become pregnant or if you are not taking precautions to avoid pregnancy. [source] Anything else is a gamble with your unborn child’s mental and physical health.

What if, when you became pregnant, your doctor said, “Every time you drink a glass of wine, a beer or a cocktail you increase your child’s chances of having to live with: substance abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, anti-social disorder, ADHD, learning disabilities and sleeping disorders.”

Your doctor SHOULD say that. Those are all secondary problems that an FASD child has as much as a 73% chance of developing. Are you willing to take that risk for a glass of Pinot?



This is part 1 of 3 in an RJC series on FASD. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can follow along with the next two installments in the coming weeks. For more information about FASD – visit

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  1. I’ve been told too that a glass of wine is fine. But I’m buzzed after just one glass, I can only imagine what the baby is feeling. It’s only nine months, you can go nine months without alcohol!

  2. My doctor recommended red wine, too. I didn’t drink any because I was paranoid, but I know other moms that took him up on it. I was scared to even take Tylenol when I was pregnant.

    Thanks for sharing this with us today. It’s always good to be informed.

  3. If it was possible that something would harm my child during pregnancy, I stayed away. No caffeine at all, that sort of thing. I did have maybe a glass or two total toward the end of my pregnancies.

  4. One of my biggest fears is actually that I will have a drink and not KNOW that I am pregnant. Not that we are trying or anything, but you know that sometimes surprises happen and whatnot and I’m super scared that I will just happen to have had a night out in that week that I fall pregnant or something like that! Working at a summer camp with kids from low-income families for eight years, I have worked with a ton of children with FASD, and it honestly really sucks that they are dealing with lifelong problems because of actions of their parents. It makes me sad. I’d definitely not risk it whatsoever, as you have said, and it’s crazy that doctors are RECOMMENDING drinks!

  5. I had always heard that one glass of wine every so often was OK but I have such a low tolerance. Like someone else said, it’s only nine months to wait. I am sure that means the first sip like heaven.

  6. I too was told by doctors, nurses and friends an occasional drink was ok in both pregnancies. I couldn’t believe it. I avoided smoked salmon and feta cheese there was no way I would have consumed alcohol. Misinformation is so harmful.

  7. Wow, this sounds scary. I know a lot of moms who did drink wine during pregnancy because the doctor said it was ok. It’s always so hard to interpret all the conflicting information.

  8. I would have been shocked and appalled had any of my OBs told me I could drink alcohol while pregnant. I always thought that was a time when people had to be extra careful and cautious!

  9. When I was pregnant would have been shocked and appalled had one of my OBs told me it was okay to drink. I thought pregnancy was a time to be extra careful and cautious about what one consumed.

  10. I know that a glass of wine or a small glass of beer is fine while pregnant, but I just didn’t drink anything while I was pregnant. I missed my drinks, though. :)

  11. When I was pregnant I didn’t touch anything, alcohol or wine. I know that it has been said that a glass of wine is okay and will not cause any harm but I never felt comfortable with that. I always say that is better to be safe than sorry. It was not worth taking the chance.

  12. I love informative posts like these. I didn’t drink at all during both pregnancies.. I’m just too paranoid.. Bad enough my 2nd child was born with only one kidney. I’m not chancing anything.

  13. I cannot believe doctors are saying alcohol is okay. All of the doctors in my OB/GYN practice advised me to stay away from it during pregnancy.

  14. It’s terrifying what alcohol (and drugs too, of course) can do to the unborn child. I have always heard that a glass a week of wine is okay while pregnant, but most of my friends who have had babies won’t even risk that. It’s just not worth taking a chance!

  15. Thank you for spreading awareness! I didn’t drink at all while pregnant for those reasons. I’m nursing and haven’t drank still. I just don’t think there’s a reason to chance it.

  16. My sister did drink with her pregnancy and I fully believe that is why her daughter has learning issues today. There is no excuse not to take every possible precaution to ensure your child has the best shot at life while pregnant!

  17. I’d be way too paranoid to take the risk. I didn’t drink caffeine either. I guess it’s the one time of my life (well four times of my life, considering) that I’ve been extremely careful to do my best to put only healthy things in my body.

  18. What a fascinating topic and one that all expectant moms should read… Alcohol can be incredibly destructive despite the fact that it is legal.

  19. I did not – and would not – drink during my pregnancy. It’s amazing to me that doctors warn about everything else but then say that a little bit of alcohol should be just fine. You took up a controversial topic because we all know that women and wine are practically inseparable these days. Thanks for sharing this information! Maybe you have helped to educate someone.

  20. This makes me see red- is this the new evidence based medicine, that even having one drink during pregnancy is safe? Good grief. If so, just another example that today’s evidence based medicine is tomorrow’s malpractice suit!

  21. I am not much of a drinker so waiting 9 months was not a problem. But it is disconcerting to be getting that kind of info from a doctor.

  22. Sometimes it baffles me that doctors can’t get their messages straight. One doctor will tell you one thing, another will tell you something else and when you bring up the differences they act like it’s not a big deal. I’m glad you didn’t listen to your doctor and that you kept your baby from being harmed.

  23. Wow those are interesting facts. I never drank alcohol with either of my girls even though friends would say one was fine, but I did drink sodas which I know aren’t great either. Seriously though thanks for this post and the awareness you and the FASD are bringing on the subject.

  24. I wish with all my heart that my daughter’s birth mom never drank alcohol during her pregnancy. My beautiful girl struggles a lot because of FASD and the impact on her brain. Every day is a blessing, but many are extremely challenging. It didn’t need to be so. No safe amount or time or type.

  25. This is one of the many reasons I am not a pediatric nurse or an OB nurse. I could not put up with people who drink during pregnancy (I know some doctors say a glass of wine is okay but I’d go crazy if someone admitted to drinking tequila!)

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