When a woman drinks alcohol while she is pregnant, her baby may be born with FASD. According to the Canadian Community Health Survey (2003), 13.9% of women reported drinking alcohol at some point while they were pregnant. The impact of alcohol on the fetus can range in severity and is influenced by factors like how much, when and how often the mother drinks, and the mother's and baby's genetic makeup and health. Recent studies have shown that drinking even small amounts of alcohol at any time while a woman is pregnant can have a negative impact on the developing brain of her unborn baby. Even consuming one or two drinks a week puts a baby at risk (PHAC 2008).
FASD is a risk for women who might drink alcohol without knowing they are pregnant or who are unaware of the consequence of exposing the unborn baby to alcohol. There are also many other factors that can influence why a pregnant woman may drink, including poverty, unemployment, abuse and family violence. She may drink alcohol to try to cope and then continue this behaviour while she is pregnant (PHAC 2008).
The effects of alcohol on the developing fetus can cause a range of physical disabilities, brain and central nervous system disabilities and behavioural problems. The effects that the child is born with are permanent and are known as primary disabilities. Secondary disabilities are disabilities that an individual is not born with, and that could be ameliorated through better understanding and appropriate interventions (Streissguth, A. 1996; PHAC 2008).
The Government of Canada recommends that there is no safe time or safe amount of alcohol to drink when pregnant or when planning to become pregnant (PHAC 2008).