Why we need to fight against FASD

Dr James Fitzpatrick and a colleague at the Australasian Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Conference.
Dr James Fitzpatrick and a colleague at the Australasian Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Conference. 

Dr James Fitzpatrick, paediatrician, Pregnant Pause Champion and former Young Australian of the Year, explains why he believes so strongly in the Pregnant Pause campaign.

My experience of working with people living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) has been as a children's doctor in remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.

Back in 2008, I met a young child and his mother in a remote clinic. The 16 -month-old had not yet learned any words, nor had he the strength to stand. He was delayed in all areas of development. He had the classic facial features of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – small eye openings, a thin upper lip and smooth area between the lip and nose. His mother had lived a terribly hard life with abuse and trauma her frequent companion.

During her pregnancy with this little boy she drank heavily. She told me that she drank because of her own pain, because drinking helped her to get by. And she drank in pregnancy because the people around her did, and she allowed herself to do it because she didn’t know that it could harm her baby. Her son now has permanent brain damage and damage to other organs as a well.

Since meeting this mother and her child, I have worked with committed community organisations and research partners to lead a clinical team in remote communities, helping to diagnose people with FASD, and to provide advice to teachers and families on how to help them to be the best they can be.

While the focus of my work is in Western Australia, FASD, the leading preventable cause of non-genetic intellectual disability in Australia, is really an issue for all Australians.

A commonly stated reason for women drinking in pregnancy includes having a partner who drinks. As men we can respect the period of pregnancy as the one shot at developing our child's brain before birth, a nine month opportunity where the vast majority of brain and body organ development happens.

In doing so, men need to ‘man-up’, and be part of the solution. Put simply, men need to do less to cause women to drink in pregnancy, and to support them in taking nine months off alcohol. The best way to do this is to have a break from drinking ourselves while our partner is pregnant.

I was reminded of this when last month I attended the Australasian Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Conference in Brisbane.

The Conference brought together people living with FASD, parents and carers, not-for-profit and government representatives, researchers and health professionals. It highlighted the importance of prevention and the need for better outcomes for those with FASD, their families, carers and communities.


Naturally, then, I’m honoured to be part of Pregnant Pause, an exciting campaign that is raising awareness of FASD, supporting women in not drinking during their pregnancy, and raising valuable funds for FASD research, prevention, and support.

The Pregnant Pause campaign message is a simple, yet powerful one.

We can respect our partners by supporting them lovingly through nature's most challenging emotional and physical time - pregnancy. And if we really want to man-up, let's take a break from drinking for nine months while our partner is pregnant. In doing so, we will be at our best, and allow our child be born at their best.

You can find more about the campaign, and Dr Fitzpatrick's work, at pregnantpause.com.au