Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the term used to describe the lifelong physical and/or neurodevelopmental impairments that can result from fetal alcohol exposure.
International FASD Awareness Day is observed at 9:09 am on the 9th day of the 9th month every year to highlight the importance of being alcohol-free for the nine months of a pregnancy.
There are 18 Local Drug Action Teams across Australia addressing FASD as a key issue in their Community Action Plans, reflecting the need for prevention measures in this area.
There is no known safe amount of alcohol which can be consumed during pregnancy.
The Broome Local Drug Action Team is addressing this issue in a unique way.
On International FASD Awareness Day, the LDAT is holding two exhibitions in Broome and Derby to raise awareness of FASD by displaying photographs of painted pregnant bellies, taken during their ‘Beautiful Bumps’ sessions.
The Derby event is aimed at families and the local community. The Broome event will be larger, with other health services and a local girls’ high school attending.
At the ‘Beautiful Bumps’ workshops, pregnant women have their bellies painted and engage in other social activities, while midwives discuss available antenatal and postnatal support services, and the risks associated with consuming alcohol and other drugs during pregnancy.
It’s double-pronged approach, providing women with an opportunity to socialise and be pampered and at the same time receive vital information and support from healthcare professionals.
As of August 2019, the LDAT has held eight ‘Beautiful Bumps’ sessions in Broome, Derby, Fitzroy and Halls Creek, with two more already scheduled.
Pippa Broughton, Health Promotion Coordinator at WA Country Health Service Kimberley, is a member of the Broome LDAT.
She said the LDAT’s focus has been on FASD prevention, raising awareness on a wider level to the community through events they do.
“The ‘Beautiful Bumps’ sessions have staff one-to-one with the participants, working with the pregnant women and their families to support them to have a healthy pregnancy.
“We weave in lots of other protective factors within those sessions, supporting women and their families with coping strategies during pregnancy and giving them access to other services in their local area.”
During each ‘Beautiful Bumps’ session, the soon-to-be-mums check in, and a healthcare professional runs through the outline of the day and offers a selection of activities. The participants also complete a pre-evaluation.
Activities are dependent on staff but can include:
Staff are all involved through the LDAT partnerships and volunteer their time to do the sessions. Pippa says this casual approach works well, both for staff and the participants.
“Usually this is where the alcohol and drug conversations take place. It’s almost like a brief intervention. It helps them to have informal conversations, but also some engaging activities to make it less intimidating.”
Broome LDAT identified ‘alcohol and pregnancy’ as their top activity for their Community Action Plan because of the rates of alcohol use in the Kimberley region, which are much higher than state average. Aboriginal communities make up a high percentage of the population of the Kimberley.
The ‘Beautiful Bumps’ sessions allow Broome LDAT to address the issue of FASD in an approachable and culturally appropriate way. However, the issue of FASD is not just specific to the Kimberley region, as Pippa Broughton points out.
“On a wider national level, FASD is concern for all Australians. Knowledge of the harms from drinking alcohol while pregnant is still not well known. There is a misconception that having one or two drinks during pregnancy is OK. But, based on the evidence, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.”
Pippa plans to continue to run, and build on, the ‘Beautiful Bumps’ sessions in the Kimberley region. She also wants to promote them around the state so that other organisations can pick up some of the ideas and incorporate them into their mainstream services, helping to promote positive health strategies for women through pregnancy.
“It doesn’t have to be separate to the work that people are already doing in maternal and child health. It’s just about giving people ideas for engaging women in conversation and reducing the stigma around alcohol in pregnancy,” Pippa said.
The partner organisations that make up the Broome LDAT are Kimberley Population Health Unit, Broome Aboriginal Medical Service (BRAMS), Community Health Broome, Kimberley Community Alcohol and Drug Service (KCADS).