Skip to content

Frequently Asked Questions

Information | Age Comparison Table | Developing Baby | Secondary Disabilities | FAQ's

What are the Characteristics of Women Giving Birth to Children with FASD?

When asking this question, the issue we are really trying to understand is “how can we better identify high-risk women and prevent all fetal alcohol spectrum disorders?” Because prevention of FASD is our most important priority, it is vital that we have as much information as possible to give us the tools to intervene and support high-risk women with a thoughtful, well planned approach.

During the past five years much research has been done to look at the characteristics of women giving birth to children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, as well as the overall drinking patterns among women of childbearing age. It is important to remember that drinking of alcohol among all women who have the potential to become pregnant is an issue we need to focus on in terms of primary prevention. In a recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they found that:

“ During 1991–1995, alcohol use by pregnant women increased substantially, and alcohol use by nonpregnant women of childbearing age increased slightly. Since 1995 the rate of an any alcohol use during pregnancy (at least one drink) has declined. However, rates of binge drinking (more than 5 drinks on any one occasion) and frequent drinking (more than 7 drinks per week) during pregnancy have not declined, and these rates also have not declined among nonpregnant women of childbearing age.” “Alcohol Use Among Women of Childbearing Age—United States, 1991– 1999,”

MMWR, April 12, 2002

Additional information in this report, which Alaska data also corroborates, is the fact that pregnant women who are unmarried and older (30 years and older) tend to have the highest rates of alcohol use. In the CDC report, binge drinking and frequent drinking during pregnancy were more common in women aged 30-44 years, but among nonpregnant women, these drinking patterns were more likely to occur among women under 30 years of age. In addition, it finds that heavy alcohol use before pregnancy, especially among older women, is a clear indicator that drinking will continue during pregnancy.

Data collected by the Alaska FASD Surveillance Project provides a similar picture of the mothers of children with FASD who have been reported to the Alaska Birth Defects Registry. For mothers with children born in 1995- 1998, whose children were identified as prenatally exposed to alcohol, most (over 60%) were 30-39 years old at the time of the identified birth. These mothers were generally single, had an average of 2.8 prior births, over 75% smoked tobacco and at least 20% had received alcohol treatment at some point during their lifetime. It is also important to know that 15% did not receive any prenatal care during the pregnancy and when prenatal care did occur it usually began in the second trimester.

In a study led by Dr. Susan Astley, University of Washington, results show a number of commonalities with what we have already seen regarding age, prior births, past drinking history, etc. What this report also shows is the mental health profile of the women in their study, as well as the adverse experiences these women had during their lifetime.

“Ninety-six per cent had one to 10 mental health disorders with the most prevalent being post-traumatic stress disorder (77%) and simple phobia (44%).” In addition, 98.8% reported being emotionally abused as a child and 95% reported being sexually and/or physically abused at some time during their life. “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD) Primary Prevention Through FASD Diagnosis: II. A Comprehensive Profile of 80 Birth Mothers of Children with FASD .”

Alcohol & Alcoholism Vol. 35, No. 5, pp. 509–519, 2000.

Preventing prenatal exposure to alcohol is one of our state’s top priorities. Having as much research-based and anecdotal information as possible to help us more clearly understand the barriers and struggles that women face, will provide us with the knowledge we need to develop better and more effective intervention and prevention strategies for our state.

Posted Winter 2003