Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term for a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by exposure to alcohol before birth. The main effects from this exposure are to the brain but alcohol can also affect other parts of the body.
A diagnosis of FASD requires evidence of alcohol exposure before birth and severe impairment in at least three of ten specified domains of central nervous system structure or function. Not everyone who is exposed to alcohol before birth is able to be diagnosed with FASD, but they may still have impairments caused by alcohol.
People who have FASD, or suspected FASD, can experience complex physical, behavioural, learning and intellectual problems that persist throughout their lives. Impairment also varies between people depending on when and how much alcohol was consumed during the development of their brain and other parts of their bodies before they were born.
Although FASD is preventable, many pregnancies are unplanned and damage from alcohol exposure may happen before a woman knows she is pregnant and stops drinking alcohol.
Te Whatu Ora and the Ministry of Health advises to stop drinking alcohol if you could be pregnant, are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant. There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
There is no data on the prevalence of FASD in New Zealand, but international studies and expert opinion suggest that around 3 to 5 percent of people may be affected by the effects of alcohol exposure before birth. This implies that around 1800-3000 babies may be born with FASD each year in New Zealand.
Information for health practitioners on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
FASD diagnosis guidance
- Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: A guideline for diagnosis across the lifespan (Canada)
- Updated Clinical Guidelines for Diagnosing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (United States)
FASD - learning opportunities
- Oranga Tamariki Practice Centre: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
- TKI: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and learning (Ministry of Education)
- FASD: Essential strategies A resource for frontline professionals and in-person training (Te Pou)
- Alcohol, pregnancy and FASD: Learning programme for midwives and LMCs (on LearnOnline)
Alcohol and pregnancy - resources and learning opportunities
- Te Hiringa Haoura Health Promotion Agency have a range of alcohol and pregnancy resources for health professionals
- Gen2040: Best Start Kōwae – An early pregnancy assessment tool
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder-related publications and websites
If you know of something that should be included on this list, send it to Harsh.Vardhan@health.govt.nz.
New Zealand publications
Ministry of Health
- Systematic review of the literature on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
- Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: 2016–2019: An action plan
- Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: A discussion document
Health Promotion Agency
- Attitudes to and awareness of alcohol pregnancy warning labels
- Attitudes to drinking in pregnancy
- Attitudes towards drinking alcohol during pregnancy – Fact Sheet
- Consumer awareness and understanding of alcohol pregnancy warning labels
- Drinking alcohol during pregnancy. A literature review
- Insights from women about drinking alcohol during pregnancy
- Waitemata DHB CADS Pregnancy and Parenting Service: Process Evaluation Report
- Lililwan Project: a population-based active case ascertainment study of the prevalence of FASD in remote Australian Aboriginal communities
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and youth justice: a prevalence study among young people sentenced to detention in Western Australia
- Global prevalence of FASD among children and youth – a systematic review and meta-analysis (PDF, 683 KB)
- Health Promotion Agency: Alcohol.org.nz
- Oranga Tamariki Practice Centre: FASD
- TKI: FASD and learning
- Alcohol Healthwatch
- FASD Care Action Network