Pregnancy, Alcohol and Trauma-informed Practice


What is trauma?

Trauma can result from early experiences in life such as child abuse, neglect and witnessing violence as well as later experiences such as violence, accidents, natural disaster, war and sudden unexpected loss. Trauma results from experiences that overwhelm an individual’s capacity to cope.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a diagnosis used to describe one type of mental health response that can result from trauma.
  • Using substances to cope is very common among women with current or past experiences of trauma.

A Strong Relationship: Violence, trauma and FASD

In a study of 80 mothers who had given birth to a child with FASD:


Changing the Conversation

Working from a trauma-informed perspective means changing how we think and talk about alcohol use during pregnancy.

Change from: “Why is this woman continuing to drink alcohol and placing her child at risk of FASD?”

To: “Even though she knows the facts, there’s a reason she’s still drinking. I wonder…”

Change from: “She doesn’t care about her baby.”

To: “She’s making decisions to keep herself and her baby safe.”

Change from: “I just need to show her how bad drinking during pregnancy is.”

To: “I need to show her that it’s safe for her to share what’s happening in her life and that I’m able to support her.”

Change from: “Her drinking is a problem.”

To: “Her drinking is an attempt to cope with problems.”

Change from: “What’s wrong with this woman?”

To: What happened to this woman?”

Click to download ‘Pregnancy, Alcohol and Trauma-informed Practice’ information sheet.

Created by and reproduced with kind permission from the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health


1. Astley, S.J., Bailey, D., Talbot, T., Clarren, S.K. (2000). Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) primary prevention through FAS Diagnosis: II. A comprehensive profile of 80 birth mothers of children with FAS. Alcohol & Alcoholism, (35) 5: 509-519.

2. Poole, N. and L. Greaves, eds. (2012). Becoming Trauma Informed. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Toronto, ON.

3. Royal College of Nursing. (2008). Informed Gender Practice: Mental health acute care that works for women. National Institute for Mental Health: London, UK.

4.Urquhart, C. and Jasiura, F. and the TIP Project Team. (2013). Trauma-Informed Practice Guide. BC Provincial Mental Health and Substance Use Planning Council.

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