As part of International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) awareness day, Sheffield City Council is highlighting the effects of drinking alcohol whilst pregnant.
Lindsey, grandmother to Nathaniel who was born with FASD, spoke to us about the effects of mothers drinking alcohol whilst pregnant.
Lindsey said: “I started to notice Nathaniel acting differently by the time he went to school, he would be withdrawn, he would have extreme emotional reactions to situations, he would lose control of what he was doing, and in some instances he reverted back to being incontinent.
“Nathaniel is a beautiful, warm-hearted young boy who struggled to express his emotions. Due to fear and unease, incontinence was a way for Nathaniel to express his distress; I would have to leave work and pick him up, which resulted in him feeling much safer.
“The school were fantastic with him; he was referred to CAMHS where we went through a long process of elimination trying to determine Nathaniel’s diagnosis. I had always had a feeling it wasn’t ADHD and he wasn’t on the Autistic spectrum, but we had to make sure we covered all areas.
“By chance, someone who had worked alongside Nathaniel had suggested I read about FASD. I spent the evening researching and immediately knew this was what had affected Nathaniel. This was extremely distressing as I came to the realisation that my lovely grandson had been born with a brain injury, one that required a lifetime adjustment.”
FASD is not always identifiable in babies as they don’t always show physical markers, this can result in misdiagnosis.
In Nathaniel’s case, there were physical markers but this was not picked up by healthcare professionals at the time as FASD was not so widely known.
Lindsey added: “Nathaniel was born with a suspected heart murmur; there was a difference in his facial features which I am now able to recognise. During my daughter’s pregnancy, she never confessed to drinking as much as she did, she was presentable and she always attended her appointments sober.
“Life now can be extremely difficult for Nathaniel, he has to have routine, he has short-term memory loss and he has very little empathy. I make sure I am patient with him, that he has support and that I also have a lot of support, I am very lucky to have the support that I do have. My family are brilliant and so is the school that Nathaniel attends.
“It is hard when people assume he is misbehaving, he is not doing this intentionally and his incorrect choices are not done wilfully; he doesn’t have the ability to make correct choices all the time. This is the sad part of FASD, while he does listen to me, he is just unable to access certain parts of his brain that other people can do so easily.
“My message to expectant mothers is this – FASD is totally preventable if people don’t drink. You don’t have to be an alcoholic, you don’t have to binge drink, one drink whilst cooking your meal at home can have a lifetime effect on your baby.
“If you drink when you’re pregnant, your baby is drinking too.”
Councillor Jackie Drayton, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families and Baby Safe Champion at Sheffield City Council, said:
“We know that drinking alcohol whilst pregnant can have a major impact on the health of your baby, and Lindsey and Nathaniel’s powerful story helps us all to understand the real impact this has had on their lives.
“As a baby safe champion for Sheffield, my message to all expectant mums is please don’t drink whilst you’re pregnant. Keep you and your baby healthy to give you both the best possible start in your new lives together.”
There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. If you or anyone you know needs help or support about this issue, call Sheffield Treatment and Recovery Team (START) on 0114 305 0500 for free, confidential support.
For more information on how to keep you baby safe, please visit www.sheffield.gov.uk/babysafe