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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

more about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome


  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a pattern of mental and physical defects that develops in some neonates (newborns) as a result of the mother's drinking 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 may require a lifetime of special care.
  • The fetus is most vulnerable to certain types of injuries (in the uterus) depending on its stage of development when the alcohol enters the blood stream of the fetus via the mother.  A safe level of alcohol during pregnancy has not been determined, and all the major authorities agree that women should not drink at all during pregnancy.
  • Unfortunately, women sometimes wait until 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 and irreversible.
  • The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 1991 that FAS is the leading known cause of mental retardation.  And further, at least 5,000 infants are born each year with FAS, or approximately one out of every 750 live births.  Thirty to forty percent of babies whose mothers drink heavily throughout pregnancy have FAS.
  • Therefore, the Division of Alcohol and drugAbuse urges women who are pregnant or anticipating pregnancy to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages (smoking, too).

  • In a pregnant woman's bloodstream, alcohol circulates to the fetus by crossing the placenta.  Once there, it interferes with the fetus's ability to receive sufficient oxygen and nourishment for normal cell development in the brain and other organs.
  • Timing of alcohol use during pregnancy is significant in terms of the degree and nature of defects.  Alcohol use during the first trimester is more damaging than during the second trimester, which, in turn, is more damaging than use in the third trimester

  • The manifestations of specific growth, mental, and physical birth defects associated with the mother's high level of alcohol use during pregnancy are as follows:
    1. Small birth weight, small head circumference
    2. Epicanthal folds; small, widely-spaced eyes; flat mid-face
    3. Short, upturned nose; smooth, wide philtrum; thin upper lip (the philtrum is the space between the bottom of the nose, and the top of the upper lip)
    4. Underdeveloped jaw
    5. Irritability, difficulty eating or sleeping, hypersensitivity to any form of stimulation
  • Neurological manifestations of FAS:
    1. Attention deficits, memory deficits, hyperactive
    2. Difficulty with abstract concepts (math, time, money)
    3. Poor problem solving skills, difficulty learning from consequences
    4. Poor judgment, immature behavior, poor impulse control

  • There is no cure for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  Once the damage is done, it cannot be undone.  However, FAS is the only cause of birth defects that can be completely prevented.

  • FAS and FAE (Fetal Alcohol Effects) are 100% preventable through strict alcohol abstention.  Communities, schools, and concerned individuals can help to prevent FAS/FAE through education and intervention.

more about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

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