The exact prevalence of FASD in the UK is not known. International prevalence studies in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Finland, Japan and Italy state that at least 1 in 100 children are affected. This would equate to at least 6,000-7,000 babies born with FASD each year in the UK.
When a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol in her blood passes freely through the placenta into the developing baby's blood. Because the foetus does not have a fully developed liver, it cannot filter out the toxins from the alcohol as an adult can. Instead, the alcohol circulates in the baby's blood system and can destroy brain cells and damage the nervous system.
Effects can be mild or severe, ranging from reduced intellectual ability and attention deficit disorder to heart problems and even death. Many children experience serious behavioural and social difficulties that last a life time.
Many children born with FASD are not diagnosed, or do not receive a correct diagnosis, which makes calculating the prevalence of the condition extremely difficult. NOFAS-UK is a charity dedicated to supporting people affected by foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), and their families and communities. It promotes education for professionals and public awareness about the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. There is no consistent clear message on safe levels of alcohol during pregnancy; therefore they promote 'no alcohol means no risk of FASD'.
Addiction Helper, an independent service based in the UK for people with addictions take around 3000 calls per month on their help line, mainly from the loved ones of addicts looking for advice on treatment programmes. Daniel Gerrard the Founder of Addiction Helper is concerned about the number of women struggling with alcohol intake prior to conception and during pregnancy, he says, 'Because there is no proven safe level for alcohol consumption during pregnancy, the only risk-free approach is to avoid alcohol completely - during pregnancy, when trying to conceive and when breastfeeding.'