professionals, dieticians, midwives and
occupational therapists. Their message:
It’s not safe to drink while pregnant. Proj-
ects this year include a campaign to put
messaging on coasters warning women
to avoid alcohol if they plan to be or think
they are pregnant. It was to be rolled out
in September at participating bars. “This
might make them think twice,” May
says. “Friends, family members, partners
would also be aware of the message.”
May, who is a nurse and director of
policy and program development at the
Southern New Jersey Perinatal Coopera-
tive, says the current screening method
for alcohol use among pregnant women
is flawed. Right now, doctors ask, “Are
you drinking?” Women can just say no,
May says. Instead, she is proposing a
different screening method, which she
describes as a more sensitive approach.
It would start by asking the mother about
her habits prior to conceiving, how often
she consumed alcohol, and whether she
drank before she found out she was pregnant. At that point, the expectant mother
might be more open to talking about her
current habits as well, May says.
According to a recent report from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 3. 3 million American
women between the ages of 15 and 44
who drink are sexually active but not on
birth control. Three of four women who
want to get pregnant don’t stop drinking
when they stop using birth control. Many
women don’t know in the first four to six
weeks that they are in fact pregnant.
“It’s rare to find a mother who will own
up to her own consumption,” says Dr.
Uday Mehta, cochair of the FASD task
force and an associate professor of pedi-
atrics at Robert Wood Johnson Medical
School and former medical director at
Children’s Specialized Hospital. How-
ever, he adds, “the sooner the diagnosis
is made, the earlier the treatments begin
and the better the outcome.”
When Harris brought her son to see
Mehta in 2007, she was prepared to be
honest with him; she told him that she
drank while pregnant. Mehta showed
her an image of a boy who looked similar
to her son; the facial features indicated
FASD. They included olive-shaped eyes
that are relatively far apart, a shorter
nose, and a thin upper lip and philtrum
(the vertical groove in the middle of
the upper lip). To Harris’s surprise, the
chart looked similar to her, too. “That’s
because your mother drank when she
was pregnant with you,” Mehta told Har-
ris. “That explained everything,” says
Harris. “The cycle stops here.”
Despite obvious physical features, it
can still be difficult to diagnose FASD.
For one, the facial features could simply
be hereditary and unrelated to other fac-
tors. And when it comes to diagnosing
disorders, many physicians start with
the most common first, such as ADHD
and autism. It is possible that some
children are misdiagnosed if the doctor
is unaware that the mother drank during
pregnancy. Harris felt compelled to be
honest about her drinking because she
knew her son “has no shot if we don’t
start him out with a shot as soon as pos-
sible. He came into the world with the
need to fight upstream.”
The task force is also trying to debunk
the notion that some expectant moms
can get away with drinking. Some might
think, “Well my mother drank when she
was pregnant, and I’m fine,” says Mehta.
“The reality is, your mother was lucky.
That’s how I see it.” There are several
problems with this sentiment, he notes.
For one thing, not every woman metabo-
“It’s the most preventable birth defect...
It’s a choice and the consequences
can be a lifelong issue.”
women who want to get
pregnant don’t stop drinking when
they stop using birth control.
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