SOCG to develop new recommendations for health professionals on alcohol use during pregnancy

Canada’s society representing obstetricians and gynaecologists have undertaken a new project to improve education and screening relating to alcohol use for pregnant women. As part of the new project, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) will develop new national consensus guidelines for health professionals on best practice methods for the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

“It is well established that alcohol use during pregnancy leads to serious health outcomes that persist throughout life, and we know that proper education and screening of the mother for problem drinking has huge potential for prevention,” said Dr. Vyta Senikas, Associate Executive Vice-President of the SOGC.

“Despite this, there exists significant inconsistency in the way health professionals approach prevention, both during pregnancy and before conception.”
Largely, the new project will provide healthcare professionals with recommendations that will allow them to deliver a more consistent message to Canadian women. At present, counselling, screening and recording of alcohol use vary immensely throughout the country, as different protocols have been adopted from province to province, and even from hospital to hospital. The new project will also aim to improve healthcare professionals’ understanding of the risks across the broader spectrum of alcohol consumption – in particular, the guideline will provide key recommendations relating to FASD prevention for women who consume lower levels of alcohol.
“We know that these Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are largely avoidable with improved screening techniques, but we need to do more to effectively prevent this tragedy,” said Dr. Gideon Koren, a member of the project’s working group and Director of the Motherisk Program at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

“As a society, Canada has made incredible gains towards reducing alcohol use during pregnancy and raising awareness about the dangers. This project aims to take this one step further by helping to ensure that women everywhere are getting the most effective screening and counselling possible.”
The new project will develop guidelines for professionals based on a comprehensive review of scientific evidence and best-practice methods. The project, which is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, will include a multi-stakeholder working group that will examine various prevention and screening tools, and will make recommendations on the most appropriate use of these tools in clinical practice. This will increase the ability of health professionals to offer proper information and counselling about risks, prior to conception and throughout pregnancy.

About FASD
It is estimated that between one and six out of every 1,000 children are born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, a term that refers to a group of disabilities that can occur as a result of alcohol use during pregnancy.
These disabilities can include birth defects, brain damage and development problems for the unborn child, and can lead to lifelong developmental and cognitive disabilities that affect learning and behaviour throughout childhood and adulthood. Examples of the effects include memory problems, low attention span, developmental delays, and moody or aggressive behaviour. Because the negative effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders persist throughout an individual’s life, the annual costs of these disorders to society is immense, and have been estimated in the billions of dollars.

The more commonly known term Fetal Alcohol Syndrome refers to a more severe form of FASD, in which children may display slower growth, have physical differences in their faces, and display some degree of brain damage.