SALT LAKE CITY -- Mandatory signs warning of the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy have been placed in nearly 1,900 locations throughout the state where alcohol is served and sold.
The signs, posted in restaurants, bars and liquor stores, were installed Friday by lawmakers, families and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The Utah Department of Health is helping launch the new effort as Utah joins 23 other states with the mandatory signs.
Legislation passed during the 2009 session requires the signs to be posted beginning July 1, but the signs went out earlier than expected.
"There's no reason for us to wait until the summer to start promoting this important message," said Dennis R. Kellen, DABC director.
Women who consume alcohol while pregnant put their baby at risk of being born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which can cause a range of physical and mental problems, including birth defects, behavioral problems and learning disabilities.
Giving the public information about the importance of avoiding alcohol during pregnancy is an important step in helping mothers and babies, said Al Romeo, UDOH Pregnancy Risk Line counselor.
"Damage to fetuses from alcohol use can occur in each trimester of pregnancy, but the damage is completely avoidable," he said.
Top of Utah residents Kellee and Mike Kiley adopted two children from Russia. Daughter, Grace, now 13, was born with FASD.
"This is not a moral issue," Kellee Kiley said. "It's a health issue.
"I would like people, when they see these signs, to be aware that the entire life of another human being might be changed forever and their opportunities crushed because today they wanted a couple of beers."
She said alcohol can begin its damage as early as eight days after conception and the amount of problems it creates can vary from child to child.
Physical symptoms of FASD include abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip, small head size, shorter-than-average height, poor coordination, and heart, kidney and bone problems.
Behavioral and mental problems can range from hyperactive behavior and poor memory to difficulty in school and delays in speech and language.
"When society sees an outward disability, they immediately adjust, but when the child looks normal, yet they are affected mentally, people don't understand as well," Kellee Kiley said.
"Grace is very smart at reading and being creative, but she can't tell time and she can't count money. Those pathways in her brain were destroyed by the alcohol her mother consumed."
She said FASD not only affects the child, but also affects the child's teachers, family and society.
"We have seven children. It's a real eye-opener for them to live with someone on the spectrum," Kellee Kiley said.
Dr. David Patton, acting director of UDOH, said 2 percent of women reported to the Utah Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System survey that they binge drank during pregnancy, which involves drinking five or more drinks in one sitting at least one time.
This could mean more than 1,300 babies in Utah could be born each year with effects from alcohol exposure, he said. Even light drinking can cause a host of socioemotional and cognitive deficits.
It is estimated that, each year in the U.S., more than 40,000 babies are born with FASD. Those rates are higher than those affected by Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida and sudden infant death syndrome.