January is Nation Birth Defects Prevention Month

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January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. While there are many defects that are caused by genetics and other uncontrolled variables, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) are 100 percent preventable.

FASD is an umbrella term used to describe birth defects that occur when alcohol is consumed during pregnancy, resulting in a range of physical and mental birth defects. The Texas Office for Prevention of Developmental Disabilities estimates that 3,800 babies are born with some form of FASD each year.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the least common but most severe of the FASDs. However, research shows that FAS costs the US $3.6 billion dollars every year. The average cost of care for an individual is estimated around $2 million per year, but can reach as high as $4 million per year for more severe cases.

Modern research confirms what humans have suspected for centuries: alcohol has negative effects on unborn children. Greek philosopher Aristotle observed that children of drunken women were “morose and languid.” In the 1700s and 1800s, two different British surveys examined the effects of alcohol in correlation with mothers who consumed alcohol and found alcohol consumption during pregnancy affected child development. FAS was first described in the modern medical era in France in 1968, then again in the United States in 1973.

What you should know:

  1. There is no cure for FASD.
  2. The central nervous system and brain are developing throughout the entirety of the pregnancy. Any kind of alcohol intake at any time during the pregnancy can result in “hidden” birth defects.
  3. It is possible to accommodate a child born with FASD, but the effects cannot be changed.
  4. “Secondary Disabilities” like alcohol and drug abuse, mental health, school disruption, trouble with the law, and problems with employment can emerge because of FASD.
  5. FASD is 100 percent preventable.

Girls now outpace boys in alcohol consumption. Misinformation about the health risks associated with pairing alcohol with pregnancy continues to flood social media. These ever-evolving trends around alcohol use, along with budget cuts to prevention, and limited to access to healthcare are why prevention specialists must continue working to educate about the risks associated with alcohol use; the health and safety of our youth, present and future, are counting on it. There is no safe amount of any kind of alcohol to drink during pregnancy.

This year, Texans Standing Tall’s Statewide Summit will explore the effects of FASD with a presentation from national speaker, Nora Boesem. Boesem and her husband have fostered over 100 children living with FASD for the state of South Dakota and the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe. She is the founder of Roots to Wings and has given a TedX talk on FASD.

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