Algoma Public Health
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
What is FASD?
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a term that describes the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioural, and learning disabilities with lifelong implications.
FASD is a 'spectrum disorder', which means that it shows up differently in each person. In many cases, you wouldn't know that someone has FASD - their particular effects may be behavioural and not physical. In Canada, one child in every 100 births is born with FASD.
How does alcohol use during pregnancy cause FASD?
When a pregnant woman has a drink containing any type of alcohol, the alcohol in her bloodstream is carried to her baby across the placenta. The baby's liver is still developing so it cannot break down the alcohol properly. High concentrations of alcohol can interfere with the formation of the baby's brain and also the other organs. There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. There is no safe amount.
The degree of brain damage caused by the alcohol depends on the amount and pattern of alcohol use, the fetal development taking place at the time, and the baby's unique ability to tolerate the exposure.
Can the father's alcohol use cause FASD in the baby?
FASD cannot be passed on by the father of the baby. The alcohol circulation in the mother's bloodstream crosses over directly to the baby through the placenta. However, if the father drinks, it makes it harder for mom to stop drinking during pregnancy.
What if a woman drank but didn't know she was pregnant?
About 50% of Canadian pregnancies are unplanned, so many women don't expect to be pregnant when they are drinking alcohol. Most women stop drinking as soon as they realize they are pregnant.
Date of Creation: June 1, 2015
Last Modified: September 10, 2020