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Amid a sea of red shoes, awareness is growing about risks of drinking alcohol while pregnant and breastfeeding

Introduction by Croakey: Red Shoes Rock, a global awareness campaign giving voice and support to those affected by prenatal alcohol exposure, has been making a high-visibility splash across Australia this past month.

Many activities during FASD Awareness Month have highlighted the progress that is being made to prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, according to Caterina Giorgi, CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education (FARE).


Caterina Giorgi writes:

If you’ve seen a sea of red shoes on social media over the month of September – you’ve seen Red Shoes Rock – a global movement that raises awareness of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD.

The Red Shoes Rock campaign was started a decade ago by RJ Formanek, an adult with FASD living in Canada. He decided to wear red shoes to stand out, be noticed and start a conversation about his invisible disability.

This movement has now spread across the globe with people wearing their red shoes and cities lighting up their monuments red to help to raise awareness.

Caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a lifelong disability. People with FASD can experience challenges such as developmental delay; impaired speech and language development; learning problems; and difficulty controlling behaviour.

FASD is also the leading non-genetic developmental disability in Australia.

This is why the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that people should not drink any alcohol when pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

September is an opportunity to raise awareness of FASD and the need to create supportive communities for alcohol free pregnancies.

Acknowledging progress

It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge the progress that has been made in preventing and diagnosing FASD and in providing supports, as well as the need to continue to take action.

It’s been almost 11 years since the FASD: Hidden Harm report was tabled in the Federal Parliament after the Parliamentary Inquiry heard from families, clinicians and public health advocates of the impact of alcohol exposure in pregnancy to communities across Australia.

Among the report’s recommendations were mandatory pregnancy warning labels on alcohol products, which were rolled out nationally in July this year, and a national awareness campaign including paid advertising across the media.

In November 2021, the National FASD Program was launched. Funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care and developed and implemented by FARE in partnership with NACCHO and NOFASD, the Program has four streams targeting the general community, women who are most at risk, health professionals, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

As part of the Program, the Every Moment Matters campaign raises awareness of the need to avoid alcohol during pregnancy. The campaign has the tagline, ‘the moment you start trying is the moment to stop drinking’, reinforcing the messages outlined in the NHMRC Alcohol Guidelines.

NACCHO has also launched Strong Born. Strong Born is a communications campaign designed to raise awareness of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and the risks of drinking alcohol while pregnant and breastfeeding, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in rural and remote communities.

An independent evaluation of the Every Moment Matters campaign, which includes advertising on television, radio and social media, and information materials distributed through health services, shows a marked increase in awareness of FASD and alcohol risks.

The wave polls of the target audiences, which form part of the evaluation led by the University of Adelaide, found that, between January 2022 and March 2023:

  • 82.3 percent of respondents stated there is no safe number of alcoholic drinks that can be consumed during pregnancy (up from 58.3 percent)
  • 80.3 percent of respondents reported not drinking any alcohol in pregnancy (up from 68.8 percent)
  • 63.5 percent of respondents have heard of FASD (up from 52.3 percent)
  • 70.2 percent of respondents now know that FASD is a risk of alcohol consumption in pregnancy (up from 59.4 percent)
  • 90.9 percent of respondents said they will not drink alcohol if they become pregnant (up from 82.6 percent).

Launch event

Launching FASD Awareness Month 2023 in Parliament House on 5 September 2023, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, said this data meant the campaign would have “a profound generational impact”. He said a “sustained effort” was needed to continue building awareness until to became “second nature”.

At the launch event, we also heard from Jessica Birch, who lives with FASD, and Angelene Bruce, whose 14-year-old son has FASD.

NOFASD Australia Chief Operating Officer Sophie Harrington also spoke of the importance of spreading awareness that even small amounts of alcohol can harm a developing baby, including early in the gestation.

NACCHO Executive Director Monica Barolits-McCabe said the Strong Born campaign’s strengths-based communication materials were supporting healthcare practitioners, women and families to start conversations about alcohol and pregnancy. ​​​​

In 2011 the Hidden Harm report stated that “FASD and the risks posed by prenatal alcohol exposure must become common knowledge”.

The success to date of the Every Moment Matters campaign shows that we are making progress against this.

Already, the campaign video has reached more than 2.3 million women aged 18-49 years and been viewed 28 million times, while the Every Moment Matters website is being visited by more than 30,000 people every month.

We’ve also seen an outpouring of support for FASD Awareness Month and the Red Shoes Rock campaign, with more than 50 monuments lit up red in support across Australia and community advocates and celebrities donning their red shoes on social media.

Looking ahead, there is still work to be done to continue spreading the message, to improve awareness and action.

With this new evaluation data showing the campaign is having an impact, we look forward to continuing the effort to make alcohol’s risk in pregnancy “common knowledge” across Australia.

• Caterina Giorgi is CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education (FARE)

Update: Following comments on X/Twitter about breastfeeding and alcohol, here is a link to some related FARE resources.


From Twitter

Watch: The backstory


See Croakey’s archive of articles on alcohol and health