Fetal alcohol syndrome is a set of symptoms and deformations caused by a mother drinking alcohol while she is pregnant. Contrary to popular belief, FAS is not only caused by severe alcoholics and problem drinkers – it can also be caused even by casual drinkers and it may especially affect those who are not aware that they are pregnant. This is a critical consideration because alcohol consumption appears to do the most damage to a fetus during the early developmental stages. Therefore, it is wise for pregnant women or women who will become pregnant to cease drinking completely while they are carrying the child and long afterward if they choose to breastfeed.
Alcohol is a Teratogen – a substance that is known to impede or interfere with human development. This means that it can hurt the development of a young woman, and it can also seriously hurt the development of a growing fetus. Alcohol passes into the baby’s bloodstream through the placenta. From there it can affect many different areas of the child’s development – especially the brain and central nervous system. It can be difficult to predict if alcohol consumption of any amount can harm a fetus and therefore most healthcare practitioners will advise against drinking at all while pregnant. The period during which the mother drinks is also a factor, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Timing of alcohol use during pregnancy is also important. Alcohol use appears to be the most harmful during the first 3 months of pregnancy. However, drinking alcohol anytime during pregnancy can be harmful.” (1)
The primary symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome are physiological deformations such as stunted or underdeveloped limbs, facial and cranial deformations, and complications involving the brain. Some of these symptoms are apparent upon birth, while others are not readily diagnosed. The Mayo Clinic lists the following general symptoms of FAS:
- Distinctive facial features, including small eyes, an exceptionally thin upper lip, a short, upturned nose, and a smooth *skin surface between the nose and upper lip
- Deformities of joints, limbs and fingers
- Slow physical growth before and after birth
- Vision difficulties or hearing problems
- Small head circumference and brain size (microcephaly)
- Poor coordination
- Mental retardation and delayed development
- Learning disorders
- Abnormal behavior, such as a short attention span, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, extreme nervousness and anxiety
- Heart defects (2)
However, the most noticeable symptoms – and the ones the general public are most familiar with – are the facial characteristics that can develop as a result of alcohol crossing the placenta in the early stages of pregnancy. These features include small, very wide spaced eyes, a flat mid section of the face, a stunted, upturned nose and exceptionally thin upper lips. In some cases these facial deformations last into adulthood while other times they quickly become more normal as the child gets older.
Alcohol use during pregnancy can result in more problems than those listed here as part of FAS. For example, the website NoFAS.org has the following statement in regard to FAS: Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) describes the functional or mental impairments linked to prenatal alcohol exposure, and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD) describes malformations in the skeletal and major organ systems.” (3)
In short, no amount of alcohol is safe during any stage of pregnancy. If you or someone you love is pregnant or may be pregnant and consumes alcohol or has a drug problem, please call us right now to get help. We can provide you with a free, confidential consultation about one of the country’s most successful inpatient treatment and alcohol addiction recovery programs. Don’t let 2 lives go to waste – help stop FAS by calling us right now.
(1) National Center for Biotechnology Information Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
(2) The Mayo Clinic Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – Symptoms
(3) NoFAS.org What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?