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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

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Some physicians are timid about broaching the issue of alcohol use or abuse with pregnant patients, even though the damage being done to the developing fetus is PREVENTABLE and IRREVERSIBLE.

Prevent FASD with Tampons

First, a big "thank-you" to an earth-mother friend of mine who warned me some 23 years ago, thanks to the Bradley Method of Husband Coached Childbirth class she took, that any alcohol consumed during any stage of pregnancy could cause permanent damage to the developing fetus.


Had my friend not shared that information, and had I not listened, I could easily have been one of millions of pregnant women who have a beer or two or three or more while pregnant, as I used to loved cold beer, and I did not get the absolute "do not drink at all while you are pregnant" warning from my OBGYN. In all humility, I was lucky to have had that Bradley Method warning. I believe everyone should be so fortunate.


I also believe tampons can play a role in that education process. More to come on that idea.


In my work life I have seen first-hand the damage alcohol does to the brain of a developing fetus. I know people whose developmental disabilities were caused by their mother’s drinking alcohol while pregnant either because they did not know they were pregnant, or because they were addicted to alcohol and did not know how to stop drinking, or because they simply did not know alcohol could harm the baby growing inside of them. In fact, I know of one family where the grandmother, mother, and daughter are all victims of maternal alcohol consumption. I have a dear friend whose precious son, adopted from Russia, struggles daily with impulse control issues, lack of short-term memory, depression, and epic emotional meltdowns. He will probably never live on his own as the result of his birth mother’s alcohol use while she was pregnant with him.


Seeing this 100 percent preventable, 0 percent curable brain damage led me to become a founding member of the Georgia Chapter of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. NOFAS works to raise awareness of the fact that there is no known safe amount of alcohol for a woman to drink while pregnant, and that binge drinking is particularly harmful to fetal brain development. While I was blessed to know about these dangers before and during my pregnancies, more than half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, and many women don’t know they are pregnant for several weeks, or even months, during which time many continue drinking.


The time to become a turnaround mom – a woman who does everything she can to prevent next-generation addiction and abuse – is before you get pregnant. And I believe this educational process can start with a girl’s first period. That's where the tampons have a role to play.


First, statistics about women who drink while pregnant are surprising. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s analysis of 1991--2005 data from Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) surveys, the highest percentages of pregnant women reporting any alcohol use were aged 35--44 years (17.7 percent), college graduates (14.4 percent), employed (13.7 percent), and unmarried (13.4 percent).


As the report states: Healthcare providers should ask women of childbearing age about alcohol use routinely, inform them of the risks from drinking alcohol while pregnant, and advise them not to drink alcohol while pregnant or if they might become pregnant. That means, to me, that doctors seeing women from their teens through the end of menstruation should, as a matter of routine, make this information available.


Yet some physicians are timid about broaching the issue of alcohol use or abuse with patients for fear of losing the patient, even though the damage being done to the developing fetus is preventable and irreversible. It's likely that 99.9 percent of women would heed the warning were it made with clarity and emphasis, and if the doctor would provide information on where to get help if the woman wants to stop drinking but can't. The damage done by alcohol includes mental retardation, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, attention deficits, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, and social, language, and memory deficits. The likelihood is high that these children will have many hardships, including problems with substance abuse and criminal behavior.


The group of disorders related to prenatal alcohol exposure is known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), because they include a spectrum of disability ranging from mild or moderate to severe. Full-blown Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is at the most severe end of the spectrum. Each year an estimated 40,000 babies are born with FASD. As many as 6,000 of those babies have full-blown FAS. The cost to the nation of FAS alone may be as high as $6 billion each year, according to 2004 report published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics. The costs include additional medical, educational, institutional, and judicial system expenses.


I could go on and on about this particular consequence of alcohol abuse. God knows I don’t have the solution but I do have one simple idea that might help, and if you know an executive at a company that manufactures feminine hygiene products, or a member of Congress with clout in labeling of consumer goods, please forward this idea: let’s educate girls, starting with their first period, with a huge warning label on each tampon and sanitary napkin wrapper that says:

According to the surgeon general, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. For more information visit here.


If girls see this warning month after month, year after year, maybe it will help raise awareness of the problem, and it will have more girls and women questioning their use of alcohol, or at least have them more conscious of not drinking if they are pregnant.


Let’s also get this warning label on every “early pregnancy test” manufactured, as well on all manner of birth control, from packages of birth control pills to condom wrappers.


Again, I urge you to forward this article to higher ups at manufacturers of feminine hygiene, early pregnancy tests, birth control, and related products. And while you’re at it, send it to your legislators, and to every woman you know of childbearing age.


Forwarding this article could make all the difference, possibly sparing another person from the lifetime of frustration and pain known by my friends with FASDs.


You can find more information on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome by visiting these organizations:

Carey Sipp's first book, The TurnAround Mom – How an Abuse and Addiction Survivor Stopped the Toxic Cycle for Her Family, and How You Can, Too, guides fellow “children of chaos” to create the kind of sane and loving home life that helps prevent next-generation addiction and abuse. Follow her on Twitter @TurnAroundMom.


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