Common Birth Defects

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the most common known causes of mental retardation, and it's the only one that is entirely preventable. FAS is a group of mental and physical birth defects that occur because of excessive consumption of alcohol by the mother during pregnancy. These women either drink excessively throughout pregnancy or have episodes of binge drinking during pregnancy. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it travels through the placenta to her fetus. A developing fetus takes much longer to break down alcohol and as a result, the alcohol level in a fetus's blood can be higher and remain elevated longer, heightening the exposure of the fetus to alcoholic effects. This can cause the baby to suffer lifelong damage.

How common is fetal alcohol syndrome?

Every year in the United States, as many as 2,000 to 12,000 babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome. As many as 10 times that number are born with what doctors call fetal alcohol exposure, a less-severe condition. FAS occurs in 40 percent of women who are alcoholics or chronic alcohol abusers. Fetal alcohol exposure can occur in the children of women who drink moderately or lightly during pregnancy.

How is the child affected by fetal alcohol syndrome?

Children born with fetal alcohol syndrome are abnormally small at birth. They may have small eyes and an upturned nose. The heart may not have formed properly, and many children with this birth defect have a small or abnormally formed brain. Most have some degree of mental retardation. Many also exhibit difficulties with learning, attention span, coordination, and behavior. The effects of FAS last a lifetime. Adults with FAS often find it difficult to live independently and hold down a job. They may require treatment and supervision for psychological and behavioral problems.

What are the treatments for fetal alcohol syndrome?

The primary focus of fetal alcohol syndrome treatment has been to educate women about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Although many women know that heavy drinking can cause birth defects, many don't realize that even light or moderate drinking can have effects on a developing fetus. In fact, no amount of alcohol consumption has been proven safe, according to the March of Dimes, a nonprofit health agency dedicated to the study and reduction of birth defects. Children born with FAS may require psychological and behavioral counseling, special education to cope with their learning disabilities, and medical treatments throughout their lives.

Source: March of Dimes

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

Content courtesy of American Baby.