Drinking alcohol during her pregnancy
can cause a woman's baby to be born with birth
defects and developmental disabilities. In fact, alcohol (beer, wine, or hard
liquor) is the leading cause of preventable birth defects and developmental disabilities
in the United States.
Babies exposed to alcohol in the womb can develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
(FASDs). These disorders include a wide range of physical, behavioral, and learning
problems. The most severe type of FASD is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). It is caused
by heavy drinking during pregnancy.
How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?
There is no
known safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. Any amount of alcohol
can harm a developing fetus and increase the risk of miscarriage.
Alcohol easily passes through the placenta, the organ that nourishes a baby during
pregnancy. Alcohol exposure during the first trimester — perhaps before a woman
even knows she is pregnant — can cause major birth defects. Later in the pregnancy,
drinking alcohol can cause poor growth and brain damage that could lead to learning
and behavioral problems.
These problems can be prevented by not drinking any alcohol during pregnancy. Do
not drink if you are trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
How FAS Affects Kids
Kids with fetal alcohol syndrome share certain facial features such as small
eye openings, a thin upper lip, and a smooth philtrum (the groove between nose and
upper lip). Other problems include:
growth.Newborns may have low birth weights andsmall head sizes. They
may not grow or gain weight as well as other children and may be short as adults.
Birth defects. Developing
babies may haveheart, bone, and kidney problems. Vision problems and hearing
loss are common.
other neurologic problems, such as poor
balance and coordination.
development. Kids may not reachmilestonesat the expected time.
problems.Babies may be fussy or jittery,
and have trouble sleeping. Older children and teens may have:
* a lack of coordination and poor fine motor skills * poor social skills
getting along with friends and relating to others, etc.) * learning difficulties,including poor memory, difficulty in school (especially
math), and poor problem-solving skills * behavioral problems such as hyperactivity,
poor attention and concentration, stubbornness, impulsiveness, and anxiety
Children with other FASDs have
many of the same problems, but usually to a lesser degree.
FASDs are diagnosed based on the symptoms (facial features, poor growth, and brain
involvement), especially if it is known that the mother drank during the pregnancy.
In children with milder problems, FASD can be harder to diagnose. Further evaluation
and testing might be needed to rule out other conditions.
A child who is thought to have an FASD may be referred to a developmental pediatrician,
genetic specialist, or another specialist who can help identify the problem and confirm
There is no cure for FAS or FASDs. But many things can be done to help a child
reach his or her full potential, especially when the condition is diagnosed early
Children can benefit from services and therapies such as:
Sometimes families want to try alternative treatments for FASDs, such as biofeedback,
yoga, herbal supplements, and creative art therapy. Although some may be helpful — such
as using relaxation techniques for anxiety — others
have not been tested and may be harmful. Check with your child's doctor before
starting any alternative treatment.
Caring for a Child With an FASD
Children with an FASD tend to be friendly and cheerful and enjoy social interaction,
but caring for a child with this syndrome can still be challenging at times. Many
kids will have lifelong learning and behavioral problems.
Besides early intervention services and support from your child's school, providing
a stable, nurturing, and safe home environment can help reduce the effects of an FASD. Don't be afraid to seek help, if needed.
Talk to your child's doctor or other members of the care team.
Finally, a caregiver of a child with FAS should make sure to take care of himself
or herself as well. Support groups and counselors can be helpful. It's also important to get help for a parent or caregiver
who continues to struggle with alcohol addiction.