Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – What You Must Understand

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is the term that is used to describe the range of problems that arise in children after exposure to alcohol at pregnancy period. This article is going to give you an overview of the diagnosis, signs, symptoms, and as well management of FASD.

Fetal alcohol spectrum problems are entirely avoidable and the most common preventable cause of congenital disabilities and brain disorder in children. The disorders in order of greatest to smallest serious are:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome (PFAS)
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders (ARND)
  • Alcohol-related congenital disabilities (ARBD).

The extent of the problem is different according to the time, dose and pattern of maternal alcohol intake.

Alcohol Consumption at Pregnancy stage

It is not known how much alcohol, if any, is safe to consume during pregnancy. There is no known ‘safe threshold, ‘ and even small amounts of alcohol can impair fetal brain development. Alcohol is a teratogenic and a neurotoxin. A teratogen is a substance that causes congenital disabilities, and a neurotoxin causes brain damage.

The more alcohol a pregnant woman drinks, the higher the risk of damage to herself and the developing baby. This is particularly so for women who binge drink during pregnancy. When a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol goes through the placenta and produces similar blood alcohol level in the fetal circulation. The most critical time that alcohol can destroy fetal development is during the first trimester, particularly around three to six weeks, this is the period when organs are forming. Excessive consumption of alcohol during gestation increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth as well as premature birth.

Current national guidelines suggest that total abstinence from alcohol be observed in women trying to conceive, during pregnancy and in breastfeeding women. Women who realize they are pregnant and have taken small amounts of alcohol are reassured that the risks to the baby are minimal, provided they discontinue or minimize drinking alcohol immediately. Pregnant women who find it challenging to stop drinking alcohol require treatment and support.

Signs and Symptoms

Children with fetal alcohol spectrum problems are usually small in stature, have facial anomalies or are affected by sight and hearing problems. Other symptoms are; poor memory, hyperactivity, and impaired motor skills. Babies may have low birth weight, sensitive to light and noise and fail to thrive. Precise facial features include a smooth and flattened philtrum (the groove between the upper lip and the nose), and a thinned upper lip. Other symptoms include skin folds covering the inner corners of the eyes, upturned nose, flat nasal bridge and underdeveloped ears.

Behavioral Signs

Children exposed to alcohol during gestation may have problems with learning, recall, attention span, communicating, mathematics and behavior. Alcohol destroys the structure and function of the developing brain. Difficulties are encountered with arithmetic associated with handling money, reasoning, learning from previous experiences, understanding consequences of actions and socializing with other people. Other behavioral symptoms include confusion, irritability and poor control of impulse. Severely affected adults have these issues too and have issues managing bills and making purchases as well as maintaining employment.

Undiagnosed or misdiagnosed individuals are more likely to develop mental health problems, be unemployed or homeless, not complete schooling, and develop drug abuse. Lesser known are the positive components of FASD, people with the disorder tend to be faithful, affectionate, friendly, artistic and good with animals and plants.


The sooner the diagnosis is made, the better the outcome for the child, and possibly for the birth mother. Screening tools and extensive multidisciplinary behavioral and physical assessment are utilized to diagnose which of the fetal alcohol spectrum issues the infant or child is suspected of having. A diagnosis for the baby is also diagnostic for the birth mother and possibly other members of the family.

It is critical that clinicians are well trained in recognizing the disorders to prevent under-reporting or misdiagnosis. Affected children are usually misdiagnosed with attention deficit attention, deficit disorder, hyperactivity disorder and Asperger syndrome. Although forms of FASD can’t be cured, a prompt and correct diagnosis allows for suitable interventions as well as the improved standard of life for the child and primary caregivers. Secondary disabilities occur if the problem is undetected and mistreated. Features of secondary disability are dependent living, addiction, and mental illness.


The diagnosis should prompt the initiation of appropriate referral, interventions, support, and counseling. Support for school-aged children is provided in the form of special tutors, education programs, and a structured environment. Repetition, consistency, providing ideas in a solid form, supervision, and modeling are all crucial components of a management plan. Adults are provided with vocational support and probably require prolonged care. Follow up is an integral part of care, particularly the management of alcohol use in the birth mother.

Don’t Risk Your Unborn Child

The danger of consuming alcohol while pregnant has only really become well understood in recent years. When the pregnant woman takes alcohol, it enters the bloodstream and reduces the capability of the blood in the placenta to provide sufficient oxygen to the fetus which happens to be growing. The child is born suffering from the same issues as an alcoholic and is therefore subject to withdrawal signs from the moment he or she is born. These signs include sleeplessness, irritability,  and poor appetite.

Around twenty percent of children born with fetal alcohol syndrome will die shortly after birth. The ones that live will have a lifetime of intellectual disability to a varying extent as well as physical disabilities.

The disadvantages of fetal alcohol syndrome include deformities and impeded development, though there are doubtless other consequences to this condition as well. It is a series of defects, the most serious aspect being a group of deformities of the head. Babies born with fetal alcohol symptoms may also suffer from delayed growth and development.

The main issue with growth in an affected baby is that of deficiency which results in the child being small and as well underweight.

There are also facial abnormalities like; small eyes, small jaw, defects in ear formation, sagging eyelids, and certain times a hole in the roof of the mouth.

Skeletal underdevelopment brings about deformities in the ribs and chest bone, dislocated hips, the curvature of the spine, and a small head. There are sometimes these children are born with missing fingers and toes.

Another problem is the effect this syndrome has on the body system. Children born with severe alcohol syndrome are prone to heart disability, kidney problems, and can as well suffer from genital malformation.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is almost rare and takes place only in the babies of mothers who are alcoholic or drink regularly and heavily when pregnant.

Approximately one-third of children born to mothers who are alcoholic or who drink severely during pregnancy may suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. It is also likely for a child to be born with this syndrome when the mother has drunk only a small amount of alcohol but has done so on a regular basis.

Sometimes a child may not suffer from the entire range of problems associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, but the alcohol can still cause a child to be born with development problems which have taken place while in the uterus. There is some debate about how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy, but it is believed that even small amounts, in the first trimester, can be harmful.

Obviously, the best way to avoid this problem is to avoid all alcohol during pregnancy. It is still possible to enjoy social occasions without consuming alcohol and putting your unborn baby at risk. There are many non-alcoholic wines and so forth available these days, and this is a much safer option.

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