Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a pattern of mental and physical defects that develop in some unborn babies when the mother drinks too much alcohol during pregnancy.
It includes mental retardation, growth deficiencies, central nervous system dysfunction, craniofacial abnormalities, and behavioral problems.
A baby born with FAS may be seriously handicapped and require a lifetime of special care.
The fetus is most vulnerable to various types of injuries depending on the stage of development in which alcohol is encountered. A safe amount of drinking during pregnancy has not been determined, and all major authorities agree that women should not drink at all during pregnancy. Unfortunately, women sometimes wait until a pregnancy is confirmed before they stop drinking. By then, the embryo/fetus has gone through several weeks of critical development, a period during which exposure to alcohol can be very damaging. Therefore, the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse urges women who are pregnant or anticipating a pregnancy to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages. The incidence of FAS can conservatively be estimated at 0.33 cases per 1000 live births.
Alcohol in a pregnant woman's bloodstream reaches the fetus by crossing the placenta. There, the alcohol interferes with the ability of the fetus to receive sufficient oxygen and nourishment for normal cell development in the brain and other body organs.
Timing of alcohol use during pregnancy is important. Alcohol use during the first trimester is more damaging than during the second trimester, which is, in turn, more damaging than use in the third trimester.
The manifestations of specific growth, mental, and physical birth defects associated with the alcohol exposure during pregnancy
Small birth weight, small head circumference
Epicanthal folds, small, widely spaced eyes, flat mid-face
Short, upturned nose, smooth, wide philtrum, thin upper lip
Irritable, difficulty eating or sleeping, hypersensitivity to any form of stimulation
Neurological manifestations of FAS
Attention deficits, memory deficits, hyperactive
Difficulty with abstract concepts (math, time, money)
Poor problem-solving skills, difficulty learning from consequences
Poor judgment, immature behavior, poor impulse control
There is no cure for FAS. Once the damage is done, it cannot be undone. However, FAS is completely preventable.
FAS and FAE (Fetal Alcohol Effects) are 100% preventable when a pregnant woman abstains from alcohol. Communities, schools, and concerned individuals can help to prevent FAS/FAE, through education and intervention.