Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Can fathers be blamed too?

I almost didn’t have a Research Tuesday post. I could come up with some pithy excuses, but they’d just be excuses…suffice it to say, there was nothing that really spoke to me that I’d read. In fact, I wondered if I’d been burnt out from reading all these articles (not really!). Then I was speaking with a teacher in my school and remembered I had stored away an article to use for my own research and hadn’t yet. It was relevant, and interesting, and … uhm…maybe a bit controversial. So…I had to use it…right? I had to! First, though, I have to give a shout out to Tatyana Elleseff at Smart Speech Therapy for providing the link to me (I’ll bet she never expected me to use it this way!). It’s a bit different…and has an odd flow to it, but it’s here. So…without further ado…I bring you Research Tuesday!

research tuesday

Title: Father Involvement and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Developing Best Practices

Gearing, R.E., McNeill, T., & Lozier, F., (2005); Hospital for Sick Children, Dept. of Social Work, Toronto, ON


Background: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder was diagnosed over 30  years ago and has become recognized as the leading cause of cognitive disability in the US and Canada (previously called Fetal alcohol syndrom and Fetal alcohol effects). We have long known that maternal drinking during pregnancy is the cause of FASD although no one is sure of just how much alcohol consumption is needed. In addition there was little to no knowledge of the role father’s had in contributing to, or protecting from, FASD.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder consists of the whole spectrum from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disability, and Alcohol Related Birth Defects. In the 30 years since FASD was first identified, there has been little changes in preventing the disease. Until recently, the focus of scientific study was on maternal drinking habits during pregnancy. This paper expanded the focus to include complex familiar influences.

It is known that men who drink alcohol are exposed to toxins that directly affect their health. Men that drink are known exhibit behavioral concerns including: hyperactivity, motor issues, and decreased stress coping. Alcohol is also known to cause physical malformations and may have an effect on the semen of men who drink.

Purpose: The purpose of the article was to review the father’s role in FASD – and determine if paternal alcohol consumption played a part in the development of FASD.

What they did: A review of current literature on fathers and FASD focusing on four specific areas: genetics, relationship, family, and environment.

Results: The results are interesting…and long. So, I’m going to try to decipher them as much as possible (remember it’s a review not research where they are reporting a lot of numbers). Because the researchers were looking at four domains, we’ll separate them out.

1) Genetics: Animal investigations indicated that paternal use of alcohol is linked with a number of conditions: decreased fertility, increased miscarriages, birth defects, malformations, behavior problems, and higher fetal mortality. (SO…just to make sure we’re clear here – the scientists are saying men who drink are at a greater risk of having children with problems.)

2) Relationships: When women become mothers, typically, someone somewhere becomes a father. Alcohol impacts how well men form, maintain, and contribute to relationships not only with their partner but with their child. (Sadly, this isn’t a surprise to anyone.) According to the article, 56% of pregnancies are unintended. Because women who drink often are unaware they are pregnant, having a partner who is actively involved in family planning may reduce the risk of possible alcohol use before pregnancy is known.

3) Family: The article talks about many family issues. Mainly, parents need to teach their kids to be responsible with alcohol consumption, be opposed to any form or tolerance of physical or mental abuse, encourage alcohol free pregnancies for their daughters, and create a supportive network for the family. (seems logical)

4) Environment: According to one source in the article, about 75% of children born with FASD are born to biological fathers who are heavy drinkers and/or alcoholics. In other studies, mothers of children with FASD indicated alcohol abuse by 22% of their partners.  According to the article, FASD is more common among low-income families (71%) and that low SES is an increased risk factor for alcohol consumption during pregnancy (I guess that’s why there’s the increased incidence of FASD).

Results: The authors state they confirmed that men contribute to a variety of influences on women’s alcohol use before and during pregnancy.

Discussion:  The article states that until now the focus has been solely on the women and the role they have in preventing/causing FASD. The article states, that we have ignored the father’s involvement in alcohol consumption of pregnant women. It also goes on to say that blaming fathers or mothers ignores the impact of social aspects such as SES or ethnicity.

Some really sad facts that were mentioned in the article?

1) 45% of women surveyed reported consuming alcohol 3 months prior to finding out they were pregnant.

2) 25% of women reported they used alcohol during their first months of pregnancy.

3) In a 1992 US study, alcohol rates for childbearing women was approximately 50%. Since 56% of pregnancies are unplanned – many women are drinking during the early stages of pregnancy.

4)  per 10,000 live births FASD affects Whites (0.9), Blacks (6.0), and Native Americans (29.0).

Whew…the article goes on for a bit longer – and really is a fascinating read.  I have to admit, I am guilty of blaming…(okay, not blaming…wait..yes, blaming) the mother for drinking during pregnancy…while I’ve considered the deeper aspects some of time, but not all of the time. I need to be better at thinking: Did she know she was pregnant? Was she abused? Does she know better? Is drinking so pervasive in her life that she doesn’t know what a toxin it is? Is it a never endless cycle?

FASD can often be a hidden disorder. The facial characteristics only occur at a specific gestational period – so many of our kids may have FASD and be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with it often ensures that mothers will not admit to drinking during pregnancy.

So…how many kids with FASD do you have on your caseload? Have you considered the role men play in FASD before? Drop me a line and let me know…

Don’t forget to see all the Research Tuesday posts compiled over at Gray Matter Therapy! 

Until then…Adventure on!


5 thoughts on “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Can fathers be blamed too?

  1. Very interesting! I’m going to have to go back and refresh my memory on the signs of FASD and see which of my kids “may” be affected. I don’t have any that have been formally diagnosed.

    • Formal diagnosis is rare these days because of the stigma associated with it, unfortunately. There are many different signs, beyond the physical. Actually, the physical signs typically associated with it only occur when alcohol is consumed at a certain gestational point. But the neurological damage occurs throughout. There’s some great courses on speechpathology.com and I’m always happy to share here too. It fascinates me. I suspect there’s far more kids with FASD in our school systems than most people want to recognize.

  2. Pingback: Research Tuesday - April Roundup - Gray Matter Therapy

  3. Fascinating article! It’s true, I often have fallen prey to the same blame game (how’s that for a rhyme?) There are so many extenuating circumstances that I hadn’t considered! Thanks for the enlightenment!

Comments are closed.