Every 4½ minutes, a baby is born with a major birth defect in the United States. Major birth defects are conditions present at birth that cause structural changes in one or more parts of the body. They can have a serious effect on health, development, or functional ability. In Ohio, this is approximately 4,500 babies each year.
One birth defect is 100% preventable, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders or FASDs. FASDs are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy and is the leading known cause of mental retardation in the United States. FASDs contribute to learning disabilities, mental illness, juvenile delinquency, school dropouts, homelessness, crime and unemployment. Furthermore, studies have also shown that the use of alcohol by fathers contributes to such things as low birth weight.
Today is a day of awareness of that preventable birth defect, International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Awareness Day. Each year on September 9, people around the world gather for events to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and the plight of individuals and families who struggle with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. This day was chosen so that on the ninth day of the ninth month of the year, the world will remember that during the nine months of pregnancy, a woman should abstain from alcohol.
Melinda Slusser, Superintendent of the Ottawa County Board of Developmental Disabilities, indicates that awareness is an important first step to preventing FASD. “FASD is 100 percent preventable,” Ms. Slusser said. “Awareness can be one of the most deciding factors in bringing about positive change. Women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant need to know that no amount of alcohol is safe, not a single drop.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported in a national survey in 2008 that 10.6 percent of pregnant women age 15 to 44 reported current alcohol use. In addition, 4.5 percent reported binge drinking, which is four or more drinks in a row, and 0.8 percent reported heavy drinking. The number of women who engaged in binge drinking during the first-trimester of pregnancy more than doubled in comparison to the previous survey period.
To help increase awareness of FASD and its life-long effects, the State of Ohio created a task force in 2003, which is composed of several state agencies, prevention professionals, educators and parents or caregivers of children with FASD. The task force promotes abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy to prevent FASD, urging women not to drink a single drop.
Locally, we ask that you observe a “Minute of Reflection” this September 9th at 9:09 a.m. and remember all those affected by FASD and urge all mothers expecting babies to abstain from the use of alcohol during this important time in the development of their families. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are 100% preventable.