Experts work to keep expectant mothers from drinking

Published: Feb. 17, 2015 at 10:53 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 17, 2015 at 11:03 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Most people have heard of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, but it's a disorder that's often misunderstood.

Most children exposed to alcohol in the womb can develop a lesser form of a similar condition that falls under the umbrella of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). It's the subject of a recent documentary produced by a world-renowned expert on the subject.

"When my birth mother drank when I was in her womb, that affected parts of my brain," said one teenager featured in the film. "She said that my mom drank alcohol, and it damaged my brain," said another.

Ira J. Chasnoff, M.D. wants to grab attention by grabbing hearts, using the documentary called "Moment to Moment: Teens Growing Up with FASDs" as a medium to explain the disorders to the general public.

"For children and adolescents who've been exposed to alcohol, a very small number of them will actually have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome with the facial characteristics, the growth problems," Chasnoff said. "Far more commonly are the children who look perfectly normal, but the alcohol has affected their brain development."

Chasnoff recently stopped in Baton Rouge for his third visit to the Capital Area Human Services District (CAHSD). He led a discussion after screening the film to a packed room of health professionals and members of the public.

"One of the young ladies in the film is 21-years-old, a sophomore in college, very bright, has an IQ of 125, but can't tell time," he explained.

It's estimated that 2 – 5% of babies born in the United States each year are affected by their mother's drinking. Depending on the stage of pregnancy and how much alcohol is consumed, different areas of the brain can be impacted, often causing learning and behavior problems.

Capital Area social workers use a tool developed by Dr. Chasnoff to screen pregnant women at Medicaid clinics and private doctor's offices. 28 – 30% of women usually screen positive for one or more factors: alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or domestic violence problems.

"Since 2004 we have screened over 11,000 women," said Dr. Jan Kasofsky, CAHSD Executive Director. "Thankfully most mothers, a brief intervention is all that they need. They don't need to go into full-blown treatment, but those that do can be treated at Capital Area for a more intense approach."

The program recently expanded to Woman's Hospital, and Capital Area now hopes to get behaviorists into more local obstetrician offices.

"A lot of times providers are afraid to do screening if they don't know they can get the care that the patient needs, and so by providing the care right there in their office, it makes them feel very comfortable knowing that the need will be addressed there," Kasofsky said.

The goal is to give every baby a fair shot, preventing permanent disabilities before it's too late.

About 700 children with FASD, mostly in foster programs, have been treated through CAHSD since 2005, Kasofsky said.

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