Is FASD really 100% preventable?
A lot of progress has been made on effective FASD awareness and prevention strategies. Early efforts often used disrespectful tactics like unsettling pictures of women slugging down alcohol from a bottle while pregnant with a caption such as “Baby or the Bottle.” Those approaches have largely been abandoned. But one overly simple statement still pops up. And that is, “FASD is 100% Preventable.”
That statement is misleading because it suggests that FASD prevention is unidimensional and linked only to alcohol consumption. But alcohol use during pregnancy is linked to the social determinants of health, and its effects can be exacerbated by food insecurity, trauma, poverty and multi-substance use. It also suggests that stopping drinking is a simple choice. It puts the onus on the individual woman to make that choice and contributes to shame if they do not stop before they become pregnant. But in reality, there are many influences on women’s alcohol use, and real challenges to quitting before you know you are pregnant. Indeed, almost half of pregnancies are unplanned, so it is very challenging to be alcohol free before a pregnancy is confirmed.
In the case of other substances like tobacco or prescription painkillers, the public discourse extends beyond the individual user to corporate responsibilities, physicians and health authorities to provide harm reduction and treatment programs, and of governments to provide regulation and enforcement and policies that work toward social equity.
If we extend this perspective to alcohol use during pregnancy, we must speak about the responsibilities of the alcohol industry for targeting girls and women of childbearing age, and of health providers for providing comprehensive education and brief support during the preconception and prenatal periods. We must also consider the responsibilities of health services for providing integrated treatment programs for pregnant and parenting women; and of governments for ensuring gender equity and preventing violence against women.
Theoretically, stopping alcohol use in pregnancy, or ideally, before, sounds simple – just do it. But it takes a lot of individuals and sectors to do their part to make it realizable. Simplifying it to statements like “FASD is 100% preventable” is not the best approach.
These previous blogs illustrate the full context of FASD and prevention approaches.