Alcohol is recognized as the leading preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disorders in the United States. Yet, around 20-30% of women report drinking alcohol at some point during pregnancy, most typically during the first trimester, and 8% report binge drinking.
It’s important to recognize that there are various reasons why some women continue to consume alcohol during pregnancy, despite knowing the risks involved. For one, since up to half of pregnancies are unplanned, some women may consume alcohol before they even know they are pregnant. Others may have a preexisting alcohol addiction and find it extremely challenging to quit drinking during pregnancy without appropriate support or treatment. Factors such as poverty, abuse, and limited access to education and medical care can all exacerbate this problem.
Instead of placing blame, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Month aims to foster understanding, provide information and resources, advocate for better public health policies, and offer support to expectant mothers and individuals diagnosed with prenatal alcohol exposure. In this article, we’ll share some background about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, as well as ideas for how you can participate in FASD Awareness Month.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a range of conditions that occur in individuals who were exposed to alcohol during fetal development. People with FASD can experience a variety of lifelong physical, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms such as heart or kidney defects, seizures, balance or coordination problems, learning disabilities, or difficulties in social situations. These symptoms can vary in severity, with certain individuals experiencing them more than others.
In addition to bodily effects, individuals with FASD may face challenges that put them at higher risk for negative outcomes, including involvement in the criminal justice system. Around 61% of adolescents and 58% of adults with FASD have encountered legal issues, and 35% of those over 12 with FASD have been incarcerated.
While the exact number of babies born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) can be challenging to determine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that FASD affects approximately 1 in 20 children — making this condition more common than autism spectrum disorder, which is around 1 in 36 in 2023.
The first FASD Awareness Day was celebrated on September 9, 1999. The significance of choosing this date (9/9/99) was to highlight the importance of abstaining from alcohol throughout the nine months of pregnancy. The symbolism of the ninth day of the ninth month served as a reminder of the critical period of fetal development.
In 2016, the awareness efforts were expanded and the entire month of September was designated as FASD Awareness Month. This expansion allowed for a whole month dedicated to spreading the word, educating the public, and advocating for individuals with FASD.
Throughout September, organizations like FASD United (formerly the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) host community events, workshops and panel discussions, art exhibitions, social media campaigns, school activities, and fundraisers. These events and activities aim to distribute accurate information, reduce stigma, and encourage people to take action in preventing FASD and supporting those affected by it.
One important objective of FASD Awareness Month is to identify and support women with alcohol addiction before they become pregnant in order to promote their well-being and reduce the risks associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. By actively sharing treatment and support resources, you can help foster a supportive environment that encourages women, their partners, and their friends and family to seek help for alcohol addiction.
You can find treatment resources in your area using the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Alcohol Treatment Navigator or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. Recovering Mothers Anonymous also provides weekly online meetings and support for women.
Individuals with FASD and their families often face stigma, which can lead to discrimination and prevent people from accessing the support they need to lead healthy, fulfilled lives.
One way to end stigma is to share real stories from people living with FASD. Personal narratives can be powerful in fostering empathy and challenging stereotypes. By shining a light on the experiences of individuals with FASD and their families, you can help others see the human side of the disorder and reduce stigmatizing attitudes.
Another way to end stigma is to be mindful of the language you use when discussing FASD. Avoid judgmental or blaming language, as this only perpetuates negative stereotypes.
When speaking about someone who has been diagnosed with this condition, use person-first language that emphasizes the individual rather than their diagnosis. For example:
While some states have programs aimed at FASD prevention and intervention, many families still lack access to prenatal care or support services for children and adults diagnosed with this condition.
The FASD Respect Act (H.R. 3946/S.1800) is a bipartisan legislation dedicated to addressing FASD on a federal level. The bill would expand and establish programs for FASD, including prevention, screening and identification, and support services specifically designed for individuals with FASD. You can help get the FASD Respect Act passed by contacting your Senators and Congressional Representatives and asking them to support the bill.
There are many ways to get involved in FASD awareness campaigns and events. You can hand out brochures and educational materials, participate in a fundraiser walk, or volunteer your time at a local women’s shelter. Check with local community organizations to find out about upcoming events, or click here for a list of virtual and in-person events from FASD United.
However you choose to participate in FASD Awareness month, your involvement will help challenge stereotypes, promote acceptance, and make a big impact in the movement to support individuals with FASD. For more disability-related events and observances you can participate in all year, download our free Disability Events Calendar.
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