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Many women argue that it’s OK to have an occasional glass of wine during pregnancy—“Our mothers did it, and we turned out fine.” But a new Canadian study on the effects of drinking during pregnancy suggests that the damage caused by maternal alcohol consumption is even more prevalent than researchers thought. In fact, rates of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) are two to three times higher than previously estimated.
Study co-author and senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Lana Popova warns of potential lifelong effects of drinking while pregnant. FASD—which often goes undiagnosed and untreated—can cause developmental delays, brain damage, behavioural disorders, hyperactivity and trouble focusing, learning disabilities, vision or hearing issues, mental health challenges, and heart defects.
Most troubling, perhaps, is that alcohol can have the most damaging effects on the unborn child just three to four weeks into a pregnancy—a critical period when most women are not yet aware that they have conceived.
The latest research was conducted on 2,555 students from 40 schools across the Greater Toronto Area, as part of a global study coordinated by the World Health Organization. FASD was found to affect between 1.8 and 2.9 per cent of the student population—numbers likely to reflect the prevalence of FASD in similar large Canadian metropolitan areas. It's now estimated—conservatively—that 1 million Canadians of all ages are living with FASD.
“This study clearly shows the scope of the problem, the need for greater awareness to prevent alcohol use during pregnancy, and the need for the supports required by people with FASD and their families.” says Popova.