Fetal alcohol syndrome, the most serious form of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, occurs when a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, resulting in a variety of growth, mental, and physical problems for her infant.
Damage can occur even before a woman knows she is pregnant, yet some women continue to consume alcohol during their pregnancies. Each year, an estimated one in every 750 babies born in the United States is born with the pattern of symptoms that comprise fetal alcohol syndrome.
Drinking while Pregnant
A variety of studies have examined the effects that alcohol consumption by a pregnant woman has on her fetus. Alcohol consumed by the mother passes to her baby through her bloodstream. Groups such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists cannot agree on what constitutes a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Because there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption, medical professionals recommend that even women trying to get pregnant should not drink alcohol, as this syndrome is completely preventable via abstinence.
Signs and Symptoms
Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to an entire range of symptoms that can affect individuals whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. The condition affects people in different manners and can range from mild to severe.
Facial abnormalities are very common in fetal alcohol syndrome, including a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip, extremely wide-set or narrow eyes, smaller eye openings and flattened cheekbones.
Babies born with the syndrome exhibit low birth weight, small head circumference, failure to thrive, developmental delay, and organ dysfunction. Problems that can manifest themselves as a child grows include epilepsy, poor coordination or fine motor skills, poor socialization, lack of imagination, and a variety of learning difficulties such as poor memory, inability to understand concepts and poor problem-solving skills.
Behavioral problems also accompany fetal alcohol syndrome. Those affected by FAS may have hyperactivity, social withdrawal, stubbornness, impulsiveness, anxiety, and difficulty controlling emotions.
No cure exists for fetal alcohol syndrome, and its effects last a lifetime. Research has shown that early intervention through education and social services can be helpful. Children diagnosed at a young age can be placed in appropriate education settings and receive therapy geared toward helping them walk, talk or accomplish other motor functions.
Medication can help with some symptoms, while behavior and education therapy, parent training can help mothers and fathers understand why their children behave in a certain way. Good treatment plans include close monitoring, follow-ups and flexibility to change options along the way.