Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a disorder that causes permanent damage to a fetus’ central nervous system, particularly the brain. As a baby’s brain cells develop in the womb, they are very sensitive to outside influences, such as alcohol. Exposure to alcohol causes malformations that generally cause problems with cognitive and functional abilities.

Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs when women drink alcohol during pregnancy. However, there is a lot of debate over whether the amount and frequency of alcohol consumed, and the trimester during which alcohol is consumed influences the chances of a child developing the syndrome. The only way to prevent FAS for certain is to avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Nonetheless, some studies show that light to moderate drinking may not put the fetus at risk. A study among mothers who drank moderately during pregnancy found that their children experienced no negative effects as a result of their drinking. The researchers suggested that having just one drink per day is safe. However, they do not advocate drinking while pregnant.

As of 1988, the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act has required all alcoholic beverage containers to display a warning label for expectant mothers. Yet, the United States Surgeon General has recommended for over 25 years that women not consume alcohol while pregnant or if they are planning on getting pregnant. It is particularly important to avoid alcohol if planning a pregnancy, as she may not be aware that she is pregnant until a few months into the pregnancy.

Babies who are affected by fetal alcohol syndrome suffer from physical deformities as well as mental disabilities. Babies born with this syndrome generally weigh less than other babies and grow up to be shorter than average.

FAS babies also suffer from:

  • Smaller heads.
  • Deformed facial features (e.g., thin upper lip).
  • Decreased eye width.
  • A smooth philtrum (the groove between the nose and upper lip).
  • Abnormal joints and limbs.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Short memories.
  • Attention deficit disorder.

Furthermore, as FAS babies grow up, they are more susceptible to certain mental and behavioral problems. FAS babies are more likely to:

  • Suffer from alcohol and drug problems.
  • Experience difficulty taking care of themselves and their children.
  • Develop mental health problems.
  • Exhibit inappropriate sexual behavior.
  • Struggle with school studies.

The effects of fetal alcohol syndrome are irreversible, and there is no cure. However, some treatments are available to help reduce mental, emotional, and behavioral problems associated with FAS.