Fetal Alcohol Syndrome


Both medical research and substance abuse research have revealed that a woman who drinks alcohol while she is pregnant may harm her unborn baby.

How does this happen? When a mother drinks alcohol, the alcohol she has ingested can pass from her blood into the baby's blood.

When this happens, the alcohol in the baby's blood can damage and negatively affect the growth of his or her cells, principally the cells in the brain and in the spinal cord.

In short, alcohol in the baby's blood can lead to "fetal alcohol syndrome," one of the leading causes of mental retardation in the United States.


The Extent of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a combination of mental and physical birth defects that affects approximately 6% of the U.S. babies born to women who are alcohol dependent or who are alcohol abusers.

As put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on an annual basis in United States, between 1,300 and 8,000 babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Characteristics of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Many babies with fetal alcohol syndrome have underdeveloped brains that are small and abnormally formed.

In addition, many babies with FAS also have underdeveloped kidneys, urinary tract, or the heart.

Most babies with FAS exhibit poor coordination; some degree of emotional/mental disability; a short attention span; deformities of the fingers, joints, and the limbs; physical disabilities; poor muscle tone; behavioral problems; and/or intellectual disabilities.

Sorry to say, even if they are not mentally retarded, most people with fetal alcohol syndrome generally exhibit different degrees of emotional, learning, and behavioral problems and many times find it difficult to stay employed and to live independently.

Children with fetal alcohol syndrome may have distinct facial features such as small eyes, small flat cheeks, and a short or upturned nose.

Additionally, children with fetal alcohol syndrome are frequently short and thin and often have abnormally small heads.

Moreover, children with fetal alcohol syndrome almost always grow slowly and typically have a poor appetite, a situation, it may be emphasized, that negatively affects their uncharacteristic growth.

To complicate things even further, it can be highlighted that the parents of children with fetal alcohol syndrome may become frustrated due to the frequent and rigorous demands they experience.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects

Is there a differentiation between excessive and moderate drinking and pregnancy?

Apparently so because the medical community defines views alcohol syndrome (FAS) as the result of regular and excessive alcohol consumption throughout pregnancy while viewing fetal alcohol effects (FAE), conversely, as a consequence of moderate drinking during pregnancy.

Facts About Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The following is a sample of some of the more important and relevant statistics and facts about fetal alcohol syndrome:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome affects 1 to 2 babies per 1,000 born worldwide

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs in 30% to 50% of pregnancies in which the mother drinks heavily throughout the pregnancy

  • In the U.S. in 2004, fetal alcohol syndrome was reported to range from 0.2 to 1.5 cases per thousand live births

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1,300 and 8,000 babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome in the United States on an annual basis

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects are the leading causes of mental retardation in the United States

  • Fetal alcohol effects (FAE) has been observed in children of mothers who drank as infrequently as two drinks per week during pregnancy

  • At least 762,000 U.S. children are born each year exposed to alcohol during pregnancy

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome affects about 6% of the babies born to U.S. women who are alcohol abusers or alcoholics

Treatment of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Despite the fact that fetal alcohol syndrome at the present time is a permanent condition and cannot be cured, the treatment of fetal alcohol syndrome is possible.

Indeed, people with assorted characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome can be helped with hearing aids or with eyeglasses/contact lenses.

In a similar manner, organ abnormalities may call for corrective surgery.

Furthermore, special education classes and access to social service organizations may be needed when people with fetal alcohol syndrome go to school.

Finally, as children with fetal alcohol syndrome grow older, they may require special services and support to help them live independently.

What Helps Those Who Have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome researchers and practitioners have recognized a number of dynamics that have a tendency to improve the outcome of someone with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Some of these dynamics include:

  • A nurturing, stable, and loving living environment

  • Early diagnosis

  • An absence of stress and violence

  • Social services and special education

The Early Diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Early diagnosis can be critical in improving the prognosis for children who have fetal alcohol syndrome.

For instance, a child who is diagnosed early in life can receive special help from various social service agencies and can attend special educational classes.

Both of these instances can benefit the child and his or her family.

In addition, an early diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome usually helps educators and families appreciate and better comprehend why the child might act or behave differently than other children in similar circumstances.

Conclusion: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

This is one of the most basic facts about fetal alcohol syndrome: fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the most common known causes of infant mental retardation in the United States.

Even though this deformity is totally preventable, thousands of U.S. children are born each year with fetal alcohol syndrome.

The following represents some of the characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome:

  • A poor appetite

  • An atypically small head

  • Poor coordination

  • Behavioral problems

  • Emotional/mental disability

  • Poor muscle tone

  • Intellectual disabilities

  • Difficulty maintaining employment

  • Underdeveloped brains

  • Distinct facial features such as small flat cheeks, a short or upturned nose, and small eyes

  • Underdeveloped organs

  • Slow growth

  • Deformities of the fingers, joints, and the limbs

  • A short attention span

While a cure is not available at this time, fortunately, the treatment of fetal alcohol syndrome is possible.

For instance, the individual with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) who has organ deformities may require surgery. In a similar manner, the individual with FAS who has eye disabilities may need glasses/contact lenses.

Moreover, the person with FAS and who has hearing problems may need to use a hearing aid.

It has also been demonstrated that access to different social service organizations and special education classes have benefited people who have fetal alcohol syndrome.

Although the risk for fetal alcohol syndrome is more likely when the mother drinks abusively and excessively on a regular basis, research has revealed that any amount of alcohol may affect the unborn baby.


Taking all of this into consideration, the situation can be summarized as follows.

If you want to completely prevent the possibility of your baby experiencing alcohol related abnormalities or damage, then refrain from any and all drinking while you are pregnant.

This is not only logical, but it is also the recommendation of numerous doctors.

If you are pregnant and cannot stop drinking, consider making it a priority to talk with an alcohol abuse and alcoholism professional about getting alcohol treatment as soon as possible.