Governor Bev Perdue has proclaimed Sept. 9 as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day in North Carolina, and to help spread the word about the dangers of drinking while pregnant, the Connections Family Program partnered with Alcohol and Drug Services to present an educational workshop on Thursday.
A group of more than 20 participants who frequently work with women gathered at First United Methodist Church in Rockingham to hear a presentation by Amy Hendricks, project director for the North Carolina Fetal Alcohol Prevention Program. The program is a part of Mission Hospital’s Fullerton Genetics Center out of Asheville.
“My goal is to educate members of the community about the serious effects that alcohol can cause when a woman drinks during pregnancy,” Hendricks said. “These problems include physical, cognitive, behavioral and developmental disabilities which can affect an individual over a lifespan, requiring the services of many community agencies.”
During Thursday’s workshop, Hendricks discussed the effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, including its most well-known subgroup, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Also included under FASD are Alcohol-Related Birth Defects, Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder and Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
“These workshops usually attract nurses, social workers, substance abuse counselors, and at least one or two caregivers,” said Substance Abuse Prevention Consultant Brenda David of Alcohol and Drug Services in Rockingham.
Hendricks provided national and statewide statistics involving FASD, noting that approximately 1 in 100 births in the United States are affected by the disorder, the equivalent of about 40,000 newborns.
The disorder can lead to birth defects, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders and attention deficits, and is the only 100 percent preventable birth-defect, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
“Alcohol is such an accepted thing now,” Hendricks said to the group. “Our society is saturated with alcohol advertising and delivering the message that it’s all good.” The problem arrives, Hendricks said, when it reaches youth and pregnant woman.
Hendricks urged the importance of serving size when drinking alcohol, and how easy it is to misjudge its effectiveness on the body.
“We have to be mindful and help women understand servings,” said Hendricks. “As well as to increase awareness … it is harder for women to metabolize alcohol than men … If that woman is pregnant, that can increase fetus exposure to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”
Hendricks explained that alcohol is considered a Teratogen, a substance that can induce abnormalities of development with a developing embryo or fetus.
“Prenatal exposure to Teratogens like alcohol can cause premature birth, pre- and postnatal growth retardation, physical malformations, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and cognitive and behavioral problems,” she said.
During the workshop, participants passed around two dolls to view the difference between a child affected by FAS and one that was not.
David said group members showed particular interest in the effects of alcohol during embryogenesis, the developmental stages of the embryo, and other prenatal effects of alcohol.
Also mentioned were several prevention efforts, including education about alcohol, contraception and FASD for everyone, alcohol screening for all women of childbearing age, alcohol intervention for women at risk and targeted alcohol treatment and promotion of contraceptives for women at highest risk.
For more information on alcohol and pregnancy, call 1-800-752-3157, or contact the FASD Clinic at the Fullerton Genetics Center at 828-213-0022 or 888-810-2800.
— Staff Writer Mallory Brown can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at email@example.com.