Learning disabilities, mental health issues and behavior problems are just some of the issues that afflict babies exposed to alcohol in the womb, yet some doctors still tell their patients it is safe to have a drink now and then while pregnant.
Those hoping to change that are meeting on September 9, the ninth day of the ninth month, for a forum dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of drinking while pregnant and the plight of children and families affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). State legislators, health care professionals, parents, social workers and drug prevention and treatment specialists are coming together at Prairie State College in Chicago to mark international FASD Awareness Day.
A new brochure titled "It's Only Nine Months" is also being released by Prevention First, a nonprofit drug prevention organization participating in the forum, addressing some of the common questions and misperceptions women have about drinking while pregnant.
"Our research found that women are getting conflicting information about drinking while pregnant," explained Karel Ares, executive director of Prevention First. One focus group participant said she had heard that wine or Champagne were good for a woman's blood while pregnant, Ares said. Others thought drinking was safe in the first few months of pregnancy. "There is no research that proves that any amount of alcohol is safe at any time for unborn babies," Ares pointed out. "But there is a great deal of research about the many lifelong problems caused by permanent brain damage from drinking alcohol while pregnant."
Ares said that one of the most important groups of people she wants to get this message are doctors. "FASD is preventable, yet some obstetricians are still telling their patients they can have a glass of alcohol now and then. It's like playing Russian Roulette with babies' lives, and we are working to educate them about the risks."
Dr. Todd Ochs, a clinical instructor of pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, one of the scheduled speakers at the forum, said that part of the problem is that doctor training hasn't changed to reflect new research about pre-natal alcohol exposure. "We used to worry about women using heroin or other illegal drugs while pregnant, but there are too many variables with alcohol that we don't yet understand, so the best advice a doctor can give is that they shouldn't drink at all," Ochs noted.
Dr. Ochs has diagnosed and treated many children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and points out, "We know that drinking will cause damage, we just don't know how much damage will occur or what amount of alcohol will cause the damage, so why would anyone do something that's known to be harmful to a baby?"
Among the speakers at the FASD Day forum are State Rep. Al Riley (D-Hazel Crest), State Sen. Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) and psychologist Dr. Jacquelyn Bertrand from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.