Health experts in Alaska are thinking outside the box when it comes to tackling fetal alcohol syndrome. And they are hoping that a new initiative might just get people talking about the need to protect babies in their earliest stages of development from exposure to alcohol. How do they plan to do that? By installing free pregnancy tests in the ladies' bathroom at bars.

According to a 2010 report by Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services, the state has the highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome in the nation. Fetal alcohol syndrome is an umbrella term used to describe any number of negative effects that could happen when babies are exposed to alcohol in the womb. Symptoms range from stunted growth to birth defects to learning disabilities.

The University of Alaska has set out to tackle the high number of cases that occur in their home state. With the launch of their $400,000 program, pregnancy test dispensers will be installed in bars that are frequented by women 21 to 44 in six regions throughout the state. The dispensers will also be labeled with a toll-free number, website and QR code for the women to complete a short survey about knowledge and prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome. This will help the researchers track the usefulness of the project.

The idea is that if a woman even has an inkling that she might be pregnant, placing the free pregnancy dispensers in the bar bathroom might encourage her to check right then and there. And if she learns that she is pregnant, she might just stop drinking right then as well.

The biggest danger with fetal alcohol syndrome is that damage to the baby can occur even before a woman misses her period. That's why women who are trying to conceive are advised to avoid alcohol altogether. But as we all know, you don't have to be trying to get pregnant. And those first few weeks of development are critical to a baby's overall health. So researchers and policy makers are hoping that these free pregnancy tests will catch a woman's attention and help her think about the possibilities before she takes a drink.

At the very least, the initiative has Alaskans talking about fetal alcohol syndrome and the need for early prevention. And that in and of itself is a very good thing.

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