Fetal Alcohol


Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a pattern of mental and physical defects, which develops, in some unborn babies when the mother drinks too much alcohol during pregnancy.  A baby born with FAS may be seriously handicapped and require a lifetime of special care.  Some babies with alcohol-related birth defects, including smaller body size, lower birth weight, and other impairments, do not have all the classic FAS symptoms.  These symptoms are sometimes referred to as Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE).  Researchers do not all agree on the precise distinctions between FAS and FAE cases.

Cause of the Problem:
Alcohol in a pregnant womanís bloodstream circulates to 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.

Possible FAS Symptoms:

  • Growth deficiencies: small body size and weight; slower than normal development and failure to catch up.

  • Skeletal deformities:  deformed ribs and sternum; curved spine; hip dislocations; bent, fused, webbed, or missing fingers or toes; limited movement of joints; small head.

  • Facial abnormalities: small eye openings; skin webbing; between eyes and base of nose; drooping eyelids; nearsightedness; failure of eyes to move in same direction; short upturned nose; sunken nasal bridge; flat or absent grooved between nose and upper lip; thin upper lip; opening in roof of mouth; small jaw; low-set or poorly formed ears.

  • Organ deformities: heart defects; heart murmurs; genital malformations; kidney and urinary defects.

  • Central nervous system handicaps: small brain; faulty arrangement of brain cells and connective tissue; mental retardation usually mild to moderate but occasionally severe; learning disabilities; short attention span; irritability in infancy; hyperactivity in childhood; poor body, hand, and finger coordination.

Studies suggest that drinking a large amount of alcohol at any one time may be more dangerous to the fetus than drinking small amounts more frequently.  The fetus is most vulnerable to various types of injuries depending on the stage of development in which alcohol is consumed.  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. 

 What can you do?  Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is Preventable

  • If you are trying to get pregnant Ė donít drink alcohol or limit your intake

  • If you think that you may be pregnant Ė donít take any chances, donít drink alcohol

  • If you are currently pregnant Ė to be safe, donít drink.  If you have been drinking alcohol, talk with your doctor.  Always seek medical attention (prenatal care) when you are pregnant.

  • If a friend or family member is pregnant Ė be understanding and donít push them to drink alcohol.  Celebrate with non-alcoholic beverages available (always a good idea, even if you are not pregnant).

Information provided by: CT Clearinghouse, National Council on Alcoholism , U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services