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DHSS Press Release

Dr. Kara Odom Walker, Secretary
Jill Fredel, Director of Communications
302-255-9047, Pager 302-357-7498

Date: September 19, 2018


WILMINGTON (Sept. 19, 2018) - To commemorate September as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Month, the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Task Force of Delaware and Brandywine Counseling & Community Services are reminding pregnant women that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. Birth defects caused by alcohol use during pregnancy is the number one cause of preventable birth defects in this country. In Delaware, one in eight pregnant women report using alcohol. Some pregnant women are advised during their pregnancy it may be acceptable to consume limited quantities of alcohol. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) dispute that information. According to a 2016 AAP report, first-trimester drinking, compared to no drinking, results in 12 times the odds of giving birth to a child with FASD.

First- and second-trimester drinking increased the odds of FASD 61 times, and women who drink during all trimesters were 65 times more likely to have children who would develop an FASD. The same study concluded that FASD impacts 1.1 percent to 5 percent of the children in this country - five times previous estimates. Other research suggests the rate could be significantly higher given the high rate of women who report drinking while pregnant in the U.S.

"No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy," said DHSS Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a board-certified family physician. "We now know that even casual drinking carries the risk of permanent birth defects and lifelong cognitive and physical issues for infants as they grow. OB/GYNs and all medical providers play an important role in reminding pregnant women not to drink during their pregnancies."

Signs and symptoms of the various FASDs range from mild to severe and include a combination of physical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems. Prenatal alcohol exposure is a frequent cause of structural or functional effects on the brain, heart, bones and spine, kidneys, vision and hearing. It's also associated with a higher incidence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, increased temper tantrums, sensitivity to noise and light, and specific learning disabilities such as difficulties with mathematics and language, information processing, memory and problem solving.

"The FASD Task Force of Delaware is happy to join DHSS and Brandywine Counseling & Community Services in the efforts to draw attention to alcohol use during pregnancy," said Fran Russo-Avena, FASD Task Force of Delaware co-chair and a school nurse. "FASD is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Children with FASD are more likely to struggle in school, have behavioral problems and may even be labeled 'difficult kids' without anyone ever knowing the underlying cause."

If FASD is not diagnosed early, individuals are at risk for unemployment, increased substance abuse, difficultly functioning as adults, even homelessness and premature death. While FASD cannot be cured, families, clinicians, and educators can develop strategies to help the child cope and manage the symptoms.

Dan Dubovsky, a nationally known FASD specialist, has simple recommendations to follow when assisting people suffering from FASD. For example:

Brandywine Counseling & Community Services provides community education and information through a federal grant and will be working with the FASD Task Force to launch a new community outreach campaign this fall.

"If a parent, caregiver, or educator sees potential symptoms, it is important that a child get screened for FASD by their pediatrician or a specialist," said David Okeke, prevention specialist with Brandywine Counseling. "Given how common alcohol exposure is, it's entirely possible that medical providers and educators come into contact with children with FASD every day and may not know it."

"We must reduce the judgment of pregnant women and mothers who may have consumed alcohol," said Lynne Fahey, CEO of Brandywine Counseling & Community Services. "We want women and families to come forward to seek help for their children and themselves if there is an issue of addiction. If we judge women, that will just shame them and may increase the likelihood that they won't come forward, which makes diagnosis even more challenging."

Further information:

Delaware Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of the lives of Delaware's citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations.