Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the most serious of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. A baby can develop FAS in the womb as a result of a mother’s chronic consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. FAS may cause miscarriage or stillbirth. Children born with FAS may have severe physical and intellectual disabilities.

When an expectant mother consumes alcohol, the alcohol in her blood crosses the placenta and reaches the baby, where it can damage the fetus’s neurological and physical development. It is unknown how much alcohol can cause FAS, but it is thought that heavy or chronic drinking early in pregnancy, perhaps before a woman can even know that she is pregnant, may cause the most severe damage. As a result, health professionals advise that any alcohol during pregnancy be avoided entirely during pregnancy or when planning to become pregnant. 

FAS is the most common non-heredity congenital disability, occurring in 1 in 100 births.

Alcohol is a poison, but an adult’s liver and other mature body cells can render it less harmful in small doses. This is not the case for developing babies exposed to alcohol. Alcohol can cause the umbilical cord to constrict, causing a lack of oxygen to the fetus, damaging fetal brain development. Alcohol consumption in the early phases of pregnancy can also have a profound impact on body system development, including organs and limb development. Last, a mother’s alcoholism may lead to fetal malnutrition because alcohol is replacing the needed nutrients of development.

FAS is a lifelong condition with no cure, but children can benefit from early diagnosis and rehabilitative care.

Signs of FAS may include physical abnormalities such small eyes and head, a thin upper, cleft palate, lack of indentation between the nose and upper lip, webbed hands, and abnormally shaped limbs. Kidney, heart, and liver damage is also common. Infants with FAS usually have sight and hearing difficulties, are can be born with low body weight and irritability. They may also experience slower physical growth, slowed language development, and other developmental delays. Children with FAS often have cognitive deficits and typically have problems with impulse control, short attention spans, and hyperactivity.

A baby born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome will have lifelong deficits and disabilities, but early treatment with a full range of therapies gives children a critical advantage.

Conventional Treatment

FAS is a clinical diagnosis: there is no blood test, brain scan, or another definitive test to determine if a child has FAS. Knowledge of a mother’s drinking during pregnancy helps to determine the diagnosis. A baby born with FAS will have lifelong deficits and disabilities, and the earlier these are treated with a full range of therapies, the better. Physical and occupational therapy can begin in infancy and specialized care in nutrition and speech therapies may be prescribed. Plastic surgery for facial abnormalities is also standard treatment. As a child develops, learning and behavior therapies are also important treatments and should be started as early as possible.