Number of children born with fetal alcohol spectrum on the rise

Published: Jul. 30, 2019 at 6:44 AM CDT
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The number of children born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is on the rise.

Why? There are many factors, but let’s start with some startling statistics.

Here in the U.S., one in 20 kids has some effects from prenatal alcohol exposure. That's five percent.

And, one out of every 9 women admits to drinking while pregnant. That's just those admitting it.

And if you think you know who it is…think again.

"The women that are most likely to continue to drink during pregnancy, are college educated women, making over 50-thousand-dollars a year,” says Sara Messelt.

Sara Messelt is executive director of Proof Alliance, an organization with a two-fold mission of preventing FASD and supporting those living with the disorder. She says though fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is 100% preventable, it's also complicated. It's not just women willfully choosing to drink. There are people dealing with addiction, it can happen before a woman knows she's pregnant, and there's plenty of misinformation out there.

“We often hear people say, “Well you know, my mom drank while she was pregnant and we're all fine.” We often hear people say, “Well my doctor said I could have a little bit.” What's wrong with those messages is that left up to us to determine what that means,” she says.

So, they have one very clear message.

"We have the proof that there is no safe level, there's no safe amount, there's no safe kind and there's no safe time to drink when you're pregnant," says Messelt.

Want to see the proof? You actually can. In brain scans.

Dr. Jeff Wozniak’s focus is studying kids who have been exposed to alcohol during pregnancy.

"It affects a child's intelligence. It affects a child's ability to pay attention. It can affect a child's ability to plan ahead, and organize, and do all the sorts of cognitive processing that are so important to development,” says Dr. Wozniak.

What is affected depends on when a mother drinks during pregnancy, and it can range from very subtle issues, to severe physical and cognitive abnormalities. So, is there any safe level of alcohol to drink when you’re pregnant?

"This is a source of a lot of debate and a lot of controversy in the media, but in the science world it's very much settled that there's absolutely no safe level,” he says.

Have women had alcohol during pregnancy with no adverse outcome on their child? Yes. But the doctor says what is safe one person, may not be safe for another. So why risk it? The effects are not reversable. There is no cure. It is life-altering.

"we are under-diagnosing it, we're misidentifying it as other things. And as a result, the outcomes are not as good,” says Messelt.

The proof alliance tells us kids with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are also likely to have ADHD and 90% have mental health issues. They have a ton of resources and a diagnostic clinic.

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