Search for Health Information You Need

Consequences of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Even if you firmly believe in health benefits of alcohol consumption do not, for the sake of your child, drink during pregnancy. If you consume alcohol during pregnancy, you may be putting your unborn child at high risk for fetal alcohol syndrome. The disturbing consequences can include various physical and mental birth defects, delayed development and possible lifelong abnormalities. Fetal alcohol syndrome is one hundred percent preventable and can be avoided if a mother abstains from alcohol throughout her pregnancy.

There has never been a safe amount of alcohol confirmed for pregnant women, so many practitioners recommend no consumption at all. The fetus is extremely vulnerable during the first trimester, so even the doctors that allow a little consumption at the end of the pregnancy will warn women to avoid it completely early on.

Any form of alcohol including beer, wine or liquor can be harmful to a developing fetus. When a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol crosses through the placental barrier into the bloodstream of the fetus. When a baby is developing vital organs, the alcohol can potentially damage these structures, resulting in long-term consequences.

Once alcohol has damaged the fetus, the damage is permanent. There is no cure for fetal alcohol syndrome. Consequences of this syndrome on the baby include:

  • Mental retardation or borderline mental deficiency
  • Intrauterine growth retardation: when the baby is born, the head circumference, height and weight are all usually below average.
  • Facial abnormalities consisting of a smooth groove in the upper lip, narrow, small and unusual appearing eyes, a small head, an up-turned nose and a small upper jaw.
  • Abnormal brain development
  • Behavioral problems
  • Abnormalities in the limbs, including the hands, fingers, feet, toes, and joints.
  • Heart defects (less common)

Early detection of fetal alcohol syndrome enables parents to plan accordingly. When a baby is born, diagnosis at birth is more probable, because the facial abnormalities are clearly visible. As a child develops, his or her features may change, thus making diagnosis based on irregularities of the face more difficult.

Daily life is often a challenge for children with fetal alcohol syndrome as they must cope with physical, mental and behavioral problems throughout their entire lives. As children enter school, disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), pervasive development disorder (PDD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or conduct disorder may begin to manifest themselves as these behavioral disorders are more common in children with fetal alcohol syndrome. Effects of this syndrome are permanent and irreversible, therefore, affected children will have special needs in school.

Where to Get More Information: Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society