Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Scotland
What is FASD?
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a range of conditions which are caused by exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. Not all cases of alcohol-exposed pregnancy result in FASD but as alcohol is a toxin, and crosses from mother to baby during pregnancy, drinking alcohol at any stage in pregnancy is always a risk.
FASD affects people their whole lives, in different ways. Difficulties with behaviour and learning, as well as physical symptoms including organ damage and poor growth, are some of the ways people with FASD can be affected.
It’s estimated that 3-5% of people in Scotland could be living with FASD, a lifelong but preventable condition. The current life expectancy for people living with FASD is just 34 years old, because of deaths which might be prevented with better support at an earlier age.
Alcohol and pregnancy
We know that exposure to alcohol during pregnancy is the only cause of FASD. So avoiding alcohol if you think you might be pregnant, or know you are pregnant, is safest for you and your baby.
We also know that binge drinking – consuming lots of alcohol in a short period – is a particular risk for FASD. In Scotland binge drinking is still fairly common, and around 45% of pregnancies in the UK are unplanned, so there are two pieces of advice which can help women avoid alcohol-exposed pregnancy.
First is planning to avoid pregnancy if that is what you want – sexual and reproductive health services in your area can help you make a plan that fits your life.
Second is avoiding alcohol if you are, or might be, pregnant. Sometimes that can be difficult – there can be pressure on people to drink socially, and dependency doesn’t stop with pregnancy. Talking to your midwife or GP if you are concerned about your drinking is the best advice, so you can get support to help stop drinking and avoid worrying. Whether you have nothing to worry about or need some support, it’s best to ask early.
Support for people with FASD and their families
People with FASD may need support their whole lives, in different ways at different times. The same is true of their families, and support is available. Early identification and support is crucial to help people make the most of educational and social opportunities.
The FASD Hub Scotland provides help to families living with FASD through its email service, helpline (0300 666 0006 (option 2) Tues-Thurs, 10am-2.30pm) and website. They can guide you through the process of getting a diagnosis, accessing benefits and funding and getting additional support.
NHS Ayrshire and Arran has hosted the Fetal Alcohol Advisory and Support Team (FAAST) since 2014, funded by the Scottish Government. The project runs a clinic to support people with FASD and offers support to clinicians and professionals working with the condition. Currently Scotland’s only team of this kind, it is hoped that similar work can be adopted across Scotland to help support people with FASD. The team can be referred to from within the NHS Ayrshire and Arran health board, but professionals working with FASD anywhere in Scotland can benefit from the team’s insight and networking capacity.