Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Addressed at AAP Expert Workshop

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Addressed at AAP Expert Workshop
Alcohol use during pregnancy: it’s just not worth the risk. This is the key message resulting from a recent two-day
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Risk Communication Workshop that took place on July 30 – 31, 2011 at
the AAP headquarters in Elk Grove Village, IL.
Representatives (shown in the above photo) from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS), American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), Association of Women’s
Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), Society for Physician Assistants in Pediatrics (SPAP), National
Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP), as well as practicing clinicians attended the workshop to
determine new ways to communicate the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.
According to the CDC, it is estimated that 40,000 babies are born each year with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
"Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is one of the leading causes of mental retardation, yet it is the most preventable
cause," said Errol R. Alden, M.D, FAAP, executive director and CEO of the American of Pediatrics, during his
welcoming address at the FASD Risk Communication Workshop.
FASD describes a range of effects that can happen to a fetus when a woman drinks any type of alcohol during her
pregnancy. FASD can impact a child’s physical, mental, behavioral or cognitive development. Disorders included
under the umbrella of FASD are Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which is the most severe form of FASD, as well as
partial fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder and alcohol-related birth defects.
The incidence of FAS is comparable to Spina Bifida and Down Syndrome. Children who are diagnosed with FAS
experience growth deficiencies, central nervous system disabilities and facial deformities.
“One of the challenges is that clinicians want patients to hear the messages about alcohol during pregnancy, but
don’t want them to feel singled out. So they [patients] may feel ambivalent about communicating this information
to their health care provider,” said Donald Weber, MD, FACOG, of the Mayo Clinic Health System.
In addition, there are misunderstandings about alcohol and pregnancy.
“There is a misconception that wine is not alcohol and, therefore, it is okay to drink during pregnancy,” said
Thomas Donaldson, president of NOFAS.
Another common myth is that the health benefits associated with red wine make it an acceptable drink during
pregnancy. According to women participating in CDC-sponsored focus groups about alcohol use and pregnancy,
some women believe red wine during pregnancy provides antioxidants and is processed by the body differently
than other types of alcohol. But experts attending the workshop were quick to point out that red wine, like all types
of alcohol, crosses the placenta.
“Women also say, ‘my parents drank and I’m okay so what is the big deal if I drink,” added Donaldson.
Many people also believe that they haven’t met children with FASD and, therefore, this can’t be a common problem
and there is no need to worry about it happening to their baby.
However, Erin Hoffman, MPAS, PA-C, President of SPAP, said, “People probably have seen it and just didn’t realize
that alcohol could potentially be the cause of such issues in children as learning disabilities, attention problems,
low IQ, and speech and language problems.”
Workshop attendees left the meeting inspired to spread the word about the dangers of alcohol and pregnancy and
made pledges and created action steps to take after the meeting, including raising awareness among organization
members and making FASD a topic for education at national conventions.
Some of the ideas being considered to communicate messages developed during the meeting included developing
materials ranging from a joint statement to a document that will answer frequently asked questions, as well as
scenario videos about alcohol and pregnancy misperceptions that may be encountered during office visits.
The Risk Communication Workshop was hosted, planned and implemented by the AAP under the auspices of the
Program to Enhance the Health and Development of Infants and Children (PEHDIC), a cooperative agreement with
the CDC. The FASD program is part of PEHDIC and has the goal of developing, disseminating and evaluating
physician education and practice regarding FASDs. For more information, contact Faiza Khan, Program Manager at
[email protected] or 847/434-4924.