The importance of the role of AOD Sector workers
Alcohol and Other Drug Sector (AOD) workers play a key role in the prevention, diagnosis, and management of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
The National Health and Medical Research Council’s Guidelines to prevent the health risks from alcohol advise that:
- To prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol.
- For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.
Alcohol use during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm (early) birth, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Prenatal alcohol exposure can also result in FASD, the diagnostic term used to describe the lifelong physical and/or neurodevelopmental impacts that can result from fetal alcohol exposure.
FASD can be preventable – play your part
Many women may not be aware of the risks of prenatal alcohol exposure to their developing baby, or realise they are pregnant until many weeks or months into their pregnancy.
Asking about alcohol use should be built into all discussions, so that it becomes routine, rather than just asking about it during pregnancy. During these discussions, information about alcohol and pregnancy can be provided.
Resources to support AOD Sector workers
NOFASD, in conjunction with the Foundation for Alcohol Research (FARE) and as part of the Every Moment Matters campaign, has created printable resources for AOD Sector workers and a resource for women who are alcohol dependent.
These resources help reinforce the best approaches to provide non-judgemental and safe supports for women who are alcohol dependent.
Non-judgemental, inclusive, compassionate support should be provided to give reassurance that the earlier a woman seeks help, the better the potential health outcomes will be for both mother and baby.
Support for: becoming alcohol-free during pregnancy
In this webinar, two women share their honest and heartfelt journeys of experiencing alcohol dependence whilst pregnant. They talk about how the new resources would have helped them if they had been available during their pregnancy.
This is What I Needed’ Reflections from women who have experienced alcohol dependence in pregnancy:
Alcohol and pregnancy A guide for alcohol and other drug workers
You can access the social media resources and newsletter content for sharing with your colleagues through our Supporters Kit here.
Insights from mothers of children with FASD
Feelings of shame and guilt when pregnant and trying to stop drinking alcohol and not being able to can be overwhelming, making it difficult to disclose this to a health professional.
In the video below, Dr Hester Wilson, an addiction medicine specialist, speaks to a panel of four mothers of children with FASD at the APSAD (Australian Professional Scientific Alcohol and Drug Conference 2021), in a “You Can’t Ask That” style question and answer session.
The panel members share their different stories of alcohol use in pregnancy, including their lack of awareness of the potential harms, the impact of unplanned and unexpected pregnancy and being alcohol dependent with nowhere to turn for timely, non-judgemental support to stop drinking.
Making it easy to get help
It is essential to help to remove the barriers to accessing appropriate information, supports and services for women who are alcohol dependent.
Alcohol and drug use during pregnancy remains highly stigmatised, which makes women reluctant to disclose their substance use when attempting to use services.
Research shows that women using substances while pregnant have been vilified and portrayed as ‘undeserving’ in public discourse. A study by Corrigan et al. (2018) supported the notion that mothers of children with FASD are highly stigmatised for their past behaviour. The research also identified that the public were more likely to discriminate against mothers who had an alcohol dependence, than someone with a substance misuse disorder.
For someone who is alcohol dependent, medical advice and support should always be sought before they stop drinking. The effects of alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening for both mother and baby.
Support services and resources
Path2Help is a new confidential information and support pathways directory developed by the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation. The Path2Help directory contains information for more than 7,000 alcohol and other drug services across Australia.
The Every Moment Matters campaign provides information on how health professionals can provide support and advice, a range of evidence briefs and resources and links to community and health support services.
Moving Towards FASD-Informed Care In Substance Use Treatment – This document was released in June 2022 and has been produced by our colleagues at CanFASD. This guide outlines current practices to support individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) who are in treatment for substance use. The guide provides consolidated and expanded knowledge regarding appropriate substance use treatment approaches for individuals with FASD and adopts the perspective that individuals with FASD can benefit from treatment support that is well-suited to their unique neurodevelopmental needs.
Additional resources on alcohol and pregnancy can be found here.
Training for AOD sector workers
NOFASD Australia have created 3 short webinars to help AOD sector workers to become more FASD informed. These short sessions will provide background information on the prevalence of FASD in Australia, looking at the benefits of a FASD diagnosis and the impacts that may be experienced by people with FASD, as well as strategies and resources for supporting people with FASD who are experiencing alcohol dependence.
We’d love to hear from you
We are conducting a survey to evaluate these resources and we’d love to hear your views. Let us know what you think and you’ll go in the draw to win one of four $75 e-gift cards.
This study titled Consumer perceptions of alcohol and pregnancy health education materials has been approved by the University of Adelaide’s Human Research Ethics Committee (Approval Number: H-2022-153)