Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Alternative NamesAlcohol in pregnancy; drinking alcohol during pregnancy; Alcohol-related birth defects; fetal alcohol effects
What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to growth, mental, and physical problems that may occur in a baby when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy.
Signs and symptoms
A baby with fetal alcohol syndrome may have the following symptoms:
- Poor growth while the baby is in the womb and after birth
- Decreased muscle tone and poor coordination
- Delayed development and significant functional problems in three or more major areas: thinking, speech, movement, or social skills (as expected for the baby's age)
- Heart defects such as ventricular septal defect (VSD) or atrial septal defect (ASD)
Structural problems with the face, including:
- Narrow, small eyes with large epicanthal folds
- Small head
- Small upper jaw
- Smooth groove in upper lip
- Smooth and thin upper lip
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may result in:
- Miscarriage or stillbirth
- Premature delivery
Complications seen in the infant may include:
- Abnormal heart structure
- Behavior problems
- Infant death
- Mental retardation
- Problems in the structure of the head, eyes, nose, or mouth
- Poor growth before birth
- Slow growth and poor coordination after birth
Abusing alcohol during pregnancy can cause the same risks as using alcohol in general. However, it poses extra risks to the fetus. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it easily passes across the placenta to the fetus. Because of this, drinking alcohol can harm the baby's development.
A pregnant woman who drinks any amount of alcohol is at risk, since no "safe" level of alcohol use during pregnancy has been established. However, larger amounts appear to increase the problems. Binge drinking is more harmful than drinking small amounts of alcohol.
Timing of alcohol use during pregnancy is also important. Alcohol use appears to be the most harmful during the first 3 months of pregnancy However; drinking alcohol anytime during pregnancy can be harmful.
These things can help prevent fetal alcohol syndrome:
- Don't drink alcohol if you're trying to get pregnant, because your baby's brain, heart and blood vessels begin to develop in the early weeks of pregnancy, before you may know you're pregnant.
- Continue to avoid alcohol throughout your pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome is completely preventable in children whose mothers don't drink during pregnancy.
- Consider giving up alcohol during your childbearing years if you're sexually active and you're having unprotected sex.
- If you have an alcohol problem, get help before you get pregnant. Get professional help to determine your level of dependence on alcohol and to develop a treatment plan.
Women who are pregnant or who are trying to get pregnant should avoid drinking any amount of alcohol. Pregnant women with alcoholism should join an alcohol abuse rehabilitation program and be checked closely by a health care provider throughout pregnancy