A message from Dr. Unjali Malhotra, FNHA Office of the Chief Medical Officer and Toni Winterhoff, FNHA Specialist, Healthy Children
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person who was exposed to alcohol before birth. FASDs have lifelong effects, including problems with behaviour and learning as well as physical problems. FASDs are preventable if a developing baby is not exposed to alcohol. As many pregnancies are unplanned, it is advisable to not drink alcohol if there is a possibility of pregnancy.
It's important to recognize not just the challenges that come with FASD but the strengths, abilities, and successes of people with FASD, as well as the strengths and successes of family members and parents or guardians of children with FASD. That's why the theme for this year's Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder Awareness Month is “Building Strengths and Abilities."
Parenting is hard, but parenting a child who needs you in ways you never expected can be extra hard. FASD parents need extra support -- parenting support, stress-reduction support, and relationships with others who understand. Whether we are parents or children, we all need to be supported by others in order to feel safe and well. First Nations communities have close relationships with each other and strong commitments to ensuring no one is left behind. That sort of support can be integral to supporting FASD parents and children.
Family bonding is important for everyone, but it is especially important for helping children with FASD to do well. Parents who build strong bonds early on with their children with FASD often find that this bonding helps their children improve or do well in the areas where children with FASD often struggle.
Bonding through a style of parenting known as “attachment parenting" has been proven to to be especially helpful for children with FASD. “Attachment parenting" focuses on building a strong attachment between children and their parents, including an emphasis on preparing for parenting, breastfeeding and healthy foods, building trust and empathy, nurturing touch, safe sleep (including having the baby's bed in the parents' bedroom), consistent loving care, and positive discipline.
Attachment-based parenting also helps protect children from developing a separate condition known as “attachment disorder," which often overlaps with FASD. This disorder can occur when children are unable to have consistent emotional connections with parents or primary caregivers, resulting in the inability to form and maintain relationships.
Attachment parenting recommends always responding to a baby's cries and not letting the baby “cry it out." It also recommends being sensitive to a child's needs, modelling good behaviour, and understanding the reason for any misbehaviours. (See this resource for more information.)
Attachment parenting is something that flows well with First Nations traditional parenting before colonization. Janet Fox of Onion Lake First Nation (Cree) shared a traditional practice that symbolizes the layers of protection provided by attachment parenting:
“We wrap baby in a blanket every time we lovingly respond to their needs and cries. Each blanket represents a layer of protection, and each layer is helping them stay safe and warm. The more blankets, the better the baby's odds."
FNHA Supports for FASD
If you are a FASD parent, or supporting somebody who is, the FNHA can help. The FASD program supports the development of culturally appropriate evidence-based prevention, promotion and early intervention programs related to FASD. Using a home visitation model, the FNHA currently funds care providers to come to the homes of FASD families to provide information and guidance.