CanFASD: MEDIA RELEASE, Safest not to drink during pregnancy, best recommendation

Excellent media release and considerations by CanFASD!

The Prevention Conversation: A Shared Responsibility Project


Safest not to drink during pregnancy, best recommendation

CanFASD cautions that although conversation about stigmatization is important, there is still no established safe level of alcohol to consume during pregnancy.

May 19, 2017 — CanFASD, Canada’s leading FASD research network, says that a recent article posted by the The Guardian presents potentially harmful information about pregnancy and alcohol. The article posted on Thursday, May 18th claimed that warning pregnant women over dangers of alcohol goes too far. A similar article posted to The Telegraph states that advising women not to drink while pregnant is “sexist” and causes “needless anxiety”.

The two articles are based on a news release issued by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service promoting an upcoming conference entitled, Policing Pregnancy: Who Should be a Mother?

CanFASD agrees that although conversation around compassionate, non-judgmental ways to communicate this message to women and expectant mothers is indeed important—the current recommendations…

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Edmonton Fetal Alcohol Network Meetings June 6, 2017



Please join us at our June 6, 2017 Edmonton Fetal Alcohol Network meetings!

The agendas include:

Date: Tuesday June 6 , 2017

Location: Catholic Social Services – 10320 146 Street

Supports and Services Meeting: 8:30 – 9:30 am

  1. Call to order
  2. Approval last meeting minutes
  3. Partnership and Collaboration Survey
  4. Reporting
  5. Finances
  6. Short-Term Crisis Intervention Worker
  7. Additions
  8. Program Updates

EFAN Society Meeting: 9:30 – 11:30 am

  1. Call to order
  2. Approval last meeting minutes
  3. Finances
  4. Partnership and Collaboration Survey
  5. New Research
  6. Council, Interagency, Committee Updates
  7. Event Planning, K Days parade, AGM, FASD day Updates
  8. Additions
  9. Program Updates

Click to download the agenda: EFAN Agenda June 2017


Warnings over drinking while pregnant are too extreme and “sexist”, say experts


From eating sushi to smoking and drinking alcohol, we all know that there are certain things you’re not supposed to do while pregnant.

But according to experts, “sexist” warnings over the dangers of drinking while pregnant have been overstated – and could actually be harmful to women.

Under revised guidelines that came into force in January 2016, women are advised “not to drink at all while [they are] expecting”. Previously, official advice had said that pregnant women could potentially drink one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week without worrying.

Now, a group of academics and advocates from women’s groups argue that this “overly precautionary” advice has no basis in evidence, and could end up causing pregnant women unnecessary anxiety.

Read more: Contraception is an emotional and mental burden for women, study finds

In some instances, pregnant women may even have abortions because of fears that their drinking has irreparably damaged the foetus, the Guardian reports.


There is scant evidence that drinking small amounts while pregnant will damage a foetus, say experts.

Contraception and abortion charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), maternal rights campaign group Birthrights and parenting academics are calling for official guidelines on drinking while pregnant to be relaxed.

“We need to think hard about how risk is communicated to women on issues relating to pregnancy,” says Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at BPAS.

Read more: The badass women blazing a trail for reproductive rights around the world

She continues: “There can be real consequences to overstating evidence or implying certainty when there isn’t any.

“Doing so can cause women needless anxiety and alarm, sometimes to the point that they consider ending an unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy because of fears they have caused irreparable harm.”


Official advice states that pregnant women should abstain from alcohol entirely.

Ellie Lee, director of the centre for parenting culture studies at the University of Kent, describes the guidelines as “sexist”. Since it is “impossible” to prove whether or not drinking while pregnant is 100% safe, she says, women could end up feeling socially shunned without good cause.

“The scrutiny and oversight of [women’s] behaviour the official approach invites is not benign,” says Lee. “It creates anxiety and impairs ordinary social interaction.

“The exclusion of women from an ordinary activity on the basis of ‘precaution’ can more properly be called sexist than benign.”

If a mother drinks heavily and consistently throughout her pregnancy, there is a chance her child could be born with foetal alcohol syndrome disorder. Children with FASD can have mental and physical defects including poor growth, cerebral palsy, hearing and vision problems and ADHD.

However, delegates at the upcoming Policing Pregnancy: Who Should be a Mother? conference will hear that there no robust evidence that isolated binge drinking incidents cause long-term damage. As a result, women who have drunk heavily before realising they are pregnant – a common phenomenon in the UK – should not worry unduly about the health of their baby.

The Royal College of Midwives has rejected the argument that official guidelines are sexist or too stringent, repeating the advice that pregnant women – and women trying to become pregnant – should refrain from drinking entirely.

““This advice is not about policing pregnant women’s behaviour, it is about giving them unbiased information and enabling them to make the choice that is right for them,” says Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the RCM.

“Cumulative and regular alcohol consumption in pregnancy could have an impact on the health and well-being of mother and baby.”

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FASD program in Waterloo region grabs provincial attention


A program that helps youth and families in Waterloo region deal with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is receiving provincial attention.

The program, Reach For It, was started in 2013 by Lisa Colombo of Elmira after she went to the local police detachment to see if an officer could mentor her son.

Now, four years later, the program has offered nearly 50 different activities to help children and youth and also provide a connection for caregivers.

“It’s very innovative,” Colombo told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Tuesday. “There’s nothing like this anywhere in Ontario or Canada, so it’s very groundbreaking.”

Queen’s Park meeting

Now, the program has caught the attention of the province.

Colombo, and others who are behind Reach For It, will be going to Queen’s Park May 29 to meet with MPPs and staff for about an hour to discuss what they do through the program.

Then, staff with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services will visit Waterloo region this summer to observe some of the programming, which ranges from outdoor activities to cooking to woodworking.

The interest comes as the provincial government pledged in the 2017 budget to $26 million over four years to expand support for those affected by FASD. That funding includes creating training resources, creating more support worker positions, building support networks and increasing access to FASD initiatives developed by Indigenous partners.

Lisa Colombo FASD waterloo region Reach For It program

Lisa Colombo started the Reach For It program to help children, youth and caregivers coping with the effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

FASD is a brain injury

FASD is a brain injury creates a range of challenges for a person if their mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. It can include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities.

In Canada, fetal alcohol syndrome, which falls under the FASD umbrella term, is estimated to occur at a rate of one to two per 1,000 live births, the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Ontario Network of Enterprise reports on its website.

FASD rates, however, are less clear. A 2003 report from Health Canada’s framework for action on FASD said the rate is estimated at nine in 1,000 births.

Program is for caregivers, too

“Locally, what’s inspiring is the money will be there to support families, children and youth living with FASD,” Colombo said.

Children as young as four can take part in the Reach For It program. They have a police officer as a mentor and are invited to take part in any of the activities, at their own pace.

Colombo said the goal of the program isn’t to judge, but instead, focuses on helping youth and their families deal with what they’re facing.

Colombo said many of the children are also being raised by caregivers who might not be their biological parents – in some cases “very dedicated grandparents, aunts and uncles.”

The Reach For It program also helps them.

“We’re enabling the kids to have a chance to connect with others in the community, but also the caregivers stay on site and they have a chance to make those connections but also, I think, which is so important, they feel listened to, they feel part of something else,” she said.

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University Of Helsinki: Alcohol During Early Pregnancy Permanently Damages Babies


Daunting new research out of the University of Helsinki claims that drinking alcohol, even during the early weeks of pregnancy, can cause irreversible damage to an unborn baby. The researchers claim that in the early stages of pregnancy, even before many women realize that they are pregnant, alcohol exposure can cause symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is an often brushed-over topic. Reports focus primarily on stunted growth and learning disabilities, but the reality of alcohol’s impact on a baby can be much more encompassing and individualized — affecting behavior, impulse control, learning, and numerous other areas. The research was done on mice, and the scientists say that this research supports earlier theories that drinking even during very early pregnancy can cause permanent damage to children.

The researchers said that maternal alcohol intake in early pregnancy changed the way genes function in the offspring exposed prenatally to alcohol. The changes were lasting and irreversible. The researchers warned that drinking alcohol, even as early as three weeks after conception, can cause symptoms that mirror fetal alcohol syndrome, including structural changes to the face and skull, and lasting, age-inappropriate hyperactivity.

Other symptoms of fetal alcohol exposure include teeth and mouth problems, hearing and ear problems, immune system weakness, defects in organs, muscular problems, hormonal disorders, and many more physical and cognitive issues. Lara Crutchfield, FASD trainer with FASD Today, detailed the specific physical and neurological damage that can be caused when a woman drinks during pregnancy. Some of this damage is unique to fetal alcohol exposure.

The researchers warned that early pregnancy is an especially dangerous time to consume alcohol, because it’s such an active time for cell division and differentiation, according to the Daily Mail. The research into maternal alcohol consumption during early pregnancy focused on the memory and learning center of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is especially sensitive to alcohol exposure. This exposure resulted in typical symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome, but it also altered the epigenome and the function of many genes in the hippocampi. This damage lasted into the adulthood of the test subjects. The alcohol also changed the gene function of bone marrow. Dr Kaminen-Ahola explained.

“The results support our assumption that alcohol permanently alters gene regulation at a very early stage. This would be significant for the challenging diagnostics of alcohol-induced damage. The mechanisms and biological markers which can aid in diagnosis are studied so that we can offer the developmental support necessitated by the damage as early as possible. Ideally, a swipe sample from inside the mouth of a newborn could reveal the extent of damage caused by early pregnancy alcohol exposure.”

Last fall, research out the the University of North Carolina found that a significantly greater number of children probably suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder than anyone ever suspected. Earlier this year, Professor Peter Hepper from Queen’s University Belfast broke the news that even drinking a half of a glass of wine with dinner could damage a baby’s brain, an earlier Inquisitr article detailed.

Some earlier research indicated that proper maternal intake of folate, choline, and vitamin A might offer some protection to unborn babies against the effects of fetal alcohol exposure.

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The Conversations We’re Avoiding About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder



National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome – UK (NOFAS-UK)

Here we are again. Another study shows that the U.K. is among the top countries for drinking alcohol during pregnancy. A new Norwegian study shows that 28.5 percent of women in the U.K. drink when they know they are pregnant – placing the UK ahead of Russia (26.5 percent) and Switzerland (20.9 percent). This follows on from an earlier predictive study by the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) that showed more than 40 percent of pregnant women in the U.K. drink alcohol. The difference between these numbers can and will be debated by the experts. But let’s not miss the point.

The implication is staggering.

These figures show that entirely too many pregnancies risk damage to the brain and bones of the developing embryo or fetus. Most people are shocked to learn that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is considered to be more prevalent than autism. In fact, many kids with FASD are misdiagnosed as having autism. Our son was, originally.

We have to reframe how we think about this issue, beyond the stigma. The Norwegian study shows that women who are older and more highly educated are more likely to drink during pregnancy. Another recent study showed that “75 percent of women who do drink during pregnancy are consuming alcohol together with a partner. Of these women, 40 percent of drinking episodes are initiated by male partners.”

In a country like the U.K. where the pub culture run deep, this lack of awareness and such widespread drinking during pregnancy means that several thousand kids each year are unknowingly born with a hidden disability. They may face lifelong challenges with executive functioning – compromising their ability to think abstractly, to link cause and effect, and to process multi-step instructions. They may require additional cognitive support and find it difficult to control their impulses. Their brains may easily become overloaded by stimuli they cannot process quickly enough, causing meltdowns and in some cases violent outbursts. These kids will grow into adults whose lives can be successful, but who will require an underpinning of consistent support and understanding to help them achieve their potential.

The U.K.’s response to FASD lags dangerously behind other countries, at great cost to individuals, their families and society at large.

Funding for diagnosis and support can be a post-code lottery. Despite the fact that the government recently stated it is the responsibility of local Clinical Commissioning Groups to commission relevant services, far too often this responsibility is ignored, under-addressed, and/or under-funded by straining bureaucracies. This bureaucratic nightmare can be compounded by misinformation or prejudice. Families can find the process of seeking a diagnosis bewildering. They are often turned away or denied access to professionals adequately informed on FASD.

Even professionals misunderstand the fact that for every child with the facial features of the more widely known fetal alcohol syndrome, experts say there may be as many as nine or 10 others out there on the spectrum with no visible sign of the disability. Parents, including courageous birth mothers who confirm drinking during pregnancy, are often discouraged from seeking a diagnosis by professionals who tell them not to “label” their child. This can deny the child and those around him or her the lens that allows a proper understanding of the whole child to unfold.

Many schools remain unaware, uninformed and/or unwilling to address the needs of those with FASD. There are kids in classrooms across the U.K. who are undiagnosed, unsupported and drowning in an increasingly inflexible educational system. Recently we have seen reports that schools are cutting TA positions, that most basic of support for kids with disabilities.

Denial, refusing to work with concerned families, and spouting on about inclusion while denying kids access to education to which they are entitled is quite frankly, shameful, and totally unworthy of a supposedly caring society. Families, foster care and adoption services are being strained beyond their limits.

Worst of all, as a result of society’s inaction on so many levels, kids are hurting. Unsupported and misunderstood, they often encounter challenges that compound as they grow older, when the school’s curriculum becomes more abstract, social relations become even more confusing, and pressures increase all around. With depressing predictability, they are labeled behavioral problems. They too often end up self-medicating, getting into trouble, or worse. This societal head-in-the-sand approach to the figures about drinking in pregnancy leads to a very dark place for too many. These negative outcomes can often be avoided with proper awareness, diagnosis, understanding and support.

People with FASD deserve the dignity of a diagnosis and access to education and services to which they are entitled due to their disability.

The guidance from the leading medical authorities in the U.K. is clear: “If you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all.”

Why aren’t we listening? We’re willing to give up soft cheese during pregnancy but not alcohol, despite the risk of brain damage? I just don’t get it.


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The cool kids: Teen’s death from binge drinking galvanizes students


When Grade 12 students Madison Thomas and Morgan Keetch were planning their big year-end senior project at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton, they knew exactly what they wanted.

A party.

Not just any party. The two young women wanted a party with a purpose.

Morgan and Madison wanted to pay tribute to a former student who touched the lives of many.

And they wanted to warn other kids at school about binge drinking.


Brady Grattan graduated from Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton in 2015. (Submitted by Grattan family)

They’re inviting hundreds of people to their big event Tuesday, a benefit concert in memory of Brady Grattan.

Brady, 18, died just over a year ago in Alberta after a drinking game.

‘I was shocked because it really because it wasn’t something we expected to hear that morning in English class.’– Morgan Keetch

He was discovered unconscious in a rubber dinghy in the basement.

His heart stopped beating in the ambulance and paramedics revived him.

He died a week later

Morgan, who knew Brady through mutual friends, remembers the day a teacher told the class he had died.

“We were talking about current events,” she said. “And my English teacher taught Brady and she had mentioned his death and she was asking if anybody knew him in the school.

Could have been her

“And a lot of people knew him in the class and around the school. I was shocked because it wasn’t something we expected to hear that morning in English class.”

It hit Morgan especially hard because she realized how easily it could have been her.

Tracey and Corey Grattan

Brady’s mother, Tracey Grattan, said the year since Brady died has been a long, dark one, with some happy moments. (Shaun Waters/CBC)

She celebrated her 16th birthday with a night of binge drinking and ended up in hospital.

“I was drinking beer and hard liquor and taking shots of things I had never drank before and it was not a good idea, just not a good decision on my part,” she said.

She was dating someone two years older and spending time with his friends.

“And like they say, one drink leads to another, and as soon as I knew it I was in a hospital bed. I woke up and I had no idea what had happened the night before.”

Mother in tears

What Morgan will never forget is the scene around her that morning, with an IV in her arm, her mother in tears, and her boyfriend and a young woman she didn’t know nearby.

“She was the one who had said, ‘She needs to go to the hospital,'” Morgan said of the unknown visitor.

“If it weren’t for my boyfriend and that girl who had helped me that night, I would not be standing here right now.”

Brady Grattan

Brady’s parents, Corey Grattan and Tracey Grattan, say they are honoured and touched that Madison Thomas and Morgan Keetch are planning a benefit concert for their son. (Shaun Waters/CBC)

Binge drinking, Madison added, takes place at high school parties more often than parents might think.

And not many students ever think about the worst that could happen.

‘Just because you drink doesn’t mean you’re the cool kids.’– Madison Thomas

“I think the biggest thing with our society is keeping up with your friends and following the older people, so peer pressure is a huge thing,” Madison said.

She wants to deliver a message to younger students who see drinking as a way to fit in.

“Just because you drink doesn’t mean you’re the cool kids.”

The other message both girls hope to get across is the importance of friendship.

“Be there for your friends,” Madison said. “Don’t trick them into doing things.”

Set up scholarship

Madison and Morgan outlined their proposed for year-end project to Leo Hayes principal Brad Sturgeon.

They wanted to organize a benefit concert with top local talent and use the proceeds to set up a scholarship in memory of Brady. That way, they figured, students would remember how he died and might make changes in their own lives.

Sturgeon told them it was an admirable goal, but they would need the blessing of Brady’s parents, still deep in grief.

Tracey Grattan, a supply education assistant at Leo Hayes, said the year since Brady died has been a long, dark one, with some happy moments.

‘Every day, he’s there’

“It is a life sentence is what it is,” she said. “Every day, he is attached to every day, every thought. Every day, he’s there.”

Tracey remembers the day Morgan and Madison told her about their proposal. It was a happy moment.

“I was honoured and so touched.”

That night, Corey Grattan could hardly believe what he was hearing when his wife described the proposal to him at supper.

Local entertainers

“She was telling the names they had picked of local entertainers and stuff. And I was like, are you sure? Like are they going to be able to pull this off?”

Morgan and Madison told the Grattans that award-winning country artist Tristan Horncastle, Steve Waylon and Tyler Deveau had already agreed to appear.

Corey, too, was touched by the girls’ plans.

‘If we can touch one family’

“Our big thing is if we can touch one family,” Corey said. “And we can save one kid, or a university student from going out and, just when they get caught up in the moment, remembering Brady’s story, so they can stop the drinking.

“Or tell somebody ‘Don’t do that, I knew a young fella that did that, and he died.'”

Morgan Keetch and Madison Thomas said they’ve learned far more than they expected from their senior project: about mounting a full-scale concert, booking the talent and the venue and then trying to fill 600 seats.

‘Remember the good things’

But most important, Madison said, they’ve learned why so many people care about Brady,  and why it’s so important to look after each other when alcohol becomes part of the mix.

“We don’t want it to be a sad night,” she said. “We want to remember all the good things.

“We want people to have fun, but also get the message that you have to be careful when you’re drinking.”

The concert is Tuesday, May 16, at 7 p.m. at the Tom Morrison Theatre at Fredericton High School. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults.

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