WATCH: FASD awareness day - Watch Karen from Newcastle's story
Balance, the North East alcohol programme, is marking Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Day on 9 Sept by launching a powerful new film featuring a brave Newcastle mum.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy raises the risk of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a reventable, lifelong condition caused by exposure to alcohol in pregnancy, which can cause a range of physical, mental and behavioural problems.
UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines advises women that if they are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to the baby to a minimum.
However, the advice also states that women who find out they are pregnant after already having drunk during early pregnancy, should avoid further drinking, but should be aware that the risk of harm is likely to be low if they have drunk only small amounts of alcohol before they knew they were pregnant.
Balance is highlighting Karen’s story and calling for more action to tackle FASD, as it is more common than people realise.
Karen is sharing her story to raise awareness of FASD and to encourage women not to drink during their pregnancy.
Karen Slater, 54, is a Newcastle mum of four. She experienced alcohol harm first-hand when she grew up around alcohol in a hostile and dangerous environment. She was a victim of child abuse and domestic violence and sought solace in alcohol, drugs and self-harm. When she was growing up in Newcastle, alcohol was the norm, and she regularly saw her parents get drunk and fight. It was a cycle of harm passed down through generations, with their parents before them. Karen recalls living in a deprived area, feeling isolated and alone, and believing that alcohol was the solution. After suffering a lifetime of abuse, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, she drank during one of her pregnancies and this resulted in her daughter being born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) – the term given to a range of preventable mental and physical disabilities that can be caused when a developing baby is exposed to alcohol in the womb.
She said: “Please don’t drink, to me that is a big gamble with your baby’s health. My daughter is 28 now and we still have problems with her today because I was drinking whilst pregnant.
“Nine months is a short time to abstain from alcohol. So, I think if anyone has got any problems go and see your midwife or your doctor. It’s the shame that makes you not want to tell anyone about the problems, but you need the help.
“What I never knew was when you consume a glass of alcohol it goes straight to the baby’s brain, so when I had a glass of wine, my baby was having a glass of wine. You wouldn’t give a baby a glass of wine after it’s born, so why have two units and say it must be safe? It’s not worth the risk. My message is don’t drink when you’re pregnant. FASD is preventable and no alcohol is the best and safest option.”
NHS advice is that FASD is completely avoidable if you do not drink alcohol while you're pregnant. The risk is higher the more you drink, although there's no proven “safe” level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy. Not drinking at all is the safest approach.
Susan Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy, at Balance said: “Karen is incredibly brave in sharing her story and talking about how FASD has affected her life. We hope that her strong and passionate message will reach lots of people. “Pregnancy can be a confusing time and we know there are lots of myths out there around drinking and pregnancy. There is still a lack of awareness around the guidance on drinking in pregnancy, so that’s why we are raising awareness of the official advice from the Chief Medical Officer to avoid alcohol altogether if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.
“If you are expecting and have any questions on alcohol and pregnancy, your midwife and doctor can help. For any mums who suspect their child may have FASD, the FASD Network UK has a wide range of support available so please visit www.fasdnetwork.org.”
FASD Day is the 9th day of the 9th month, chosen to reflect the 9 months of pregnancy when alcohol needs to be avoided.
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder encompasses a series of preventable birth defects caused entirely by drinking alcohol at any time during a pregnancy.
FASD is considered a hidden disability because most individuals with it do not show physical features. It is thought to be under-diagnosed.
Symptoms can include vision impairment, sleep problems, heart defects, liver problems, a poor immune system, speech and language delays through to memory problems and behavioural problems such as impulsivity, hyperactivity and inappropriate social behaviour.
The term “Spectrum” is used because each individual with FASD may have some or all of a spectrum of mental and physical challenges. In addition, each individual with FASD may have these challenges to a degree or “spectrum” from mild to very severe.
FASD is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord.
There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant.