Rachel Cave · CBC News · Posted: Apr 19, 2021
Annette Cormier has a habit of thinking nine months out when she looks at behaviour patterns today.
So when new research from UNB suggests a third of young adults in New Brunswick are drinking more during the pandemic, she asks herself: How many are women who don’t yet know they’re pregnant and the harm that can result?
Cormier worked as a labour and delivery nurse for 20 years and is now the provincial manager of New Brunswick’s Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Centre of Excellence in Moncton.
She said exposure to alcohol in the womb can start causing damage to a developing fetus as early as 17 days after conception.
“That’s your fifth week into your pregnancy,” she said. “And most of these mothers don’t even know that they’re pregnant. That’s the first time you’re missing your period.”
Range of fetal harm
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, is the leading cause of neurodevelopmental disability in Canada, affecting about four per cent of the general population.
That’s more than all the people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and Tourette’s syndrome combined, according to the Canada FASD Research Network.
“In New Brunswick this means about 250 babies per year,” said Cormier.
Harm includes damage to vision and hearing, slow growth and bones that don’t develop properly.
Some individuals will present with distinguishing facial features such as a thin upper lip or small eyes but in most cases, there are no visible signs of the challenges they face.
They may have difficulty regulating their behaviours and emotions. The disorder can also impair memory, reasoning and judgment.
Cormier said the brain damage is irreversible, but the centre does provide support to families and interventions can help individuals with the disorder make the most of the strengths they have, especially when children are diagnosed early.
“Because what’s happening is, the brain is still developing and we’re able to create from the parts of the brain that are really working well, we’re able to help children learn differently,” said Cormier.
“So the sooner we can start, the better.”
No safe time, amount to drink during pregnancy
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