Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

(Alcohol in Pregnancy; Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy; FAS)

Definition

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) belongs to a group of disorders called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. It is caused when a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy. The alcohol can cause birth and developmental defects in the baby. These defects make up FAS.

Causes

Alcohol can cross from the mother's blood to the baby's blood. It is passed through the placenta. Even a small amount of alcohol can damage the fetus. It is not known how much alcohol it takes to cause defects. Social, binge, moderate, and heavy drinking all have a negative effect on fetal development. All types of alcohol, including beer and wine, can cause birth defects.
Blood Traveling Through Mother's Placenta to Baby
baby fetus placenta
Alcohol travels through this path and affects the baby's development, particularly the heart and brain.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your baby's chance of FAS include:
  • Unplanned pregnancy or failing to recognize pregnancy and continuing to drink
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Lack of knowledge about the risks of drinking while pregnant
  • Low socioeconomic status

Symptoms

Birth and developmental defects depend on when the fetus was exposed to alcohol and how much alcohol was consumed.Babies with FAS may have the following physical symptoms:
  • Low birth weight
  • Small size and delayed growth
  • Small head
  • Small eyes
  • Short, flat nose
  • Flat cheeks
  • Small jaws
  • Unusually shaped ears
  • Thin upper lip
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Sight and hearing problems
  • Heart defects
  • Small, abnormally formed brain
  • Vision problems
  • Ear infections
As the infant grows, other symptoms may develop, including:
  • Difficulty eating and sleeping
  • Delayed speech
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disability
  • Poor coordination
  • Behavior problems
  • Poor ability to control impulses
  • Problems getting along with other children
Children do not outgrow these effects. Teens and adults often experience social and emotional problems. They may develop secondary conditions, which include:
  • Problems at school
  • Inability to hold a job
  • Trouble living independently
  • Mental health problems
  • Alcohol or drug dependence
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Difficulty controlling anger
  • Legal problems

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