Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
FAS is caused by a woman's use of alcohol during her pregnancy. The alcohol
that a pregnant woman drinks travels through her bloodstream and across the
placenta to her fetus, or developing baby. A fetus's small body breaks down
alcohol much more slowly than an adult's body does. So the alcohol level in the
fetus's blood is higher than in the mother's blood, and the alcohol remains in
the fetus's blood longer. This exposure of the fetus to alcohol causes FAS.
Women who drink frequently (four or five alcoholic beverages or more per
day) greatly increase the chances that their babies will have FAS. However, no
amount of alcohol use during pregnancy has been proven safe. The effects of FAS
may also be seen in children whose mothers drank moderately or lightly during
pregnancy. An average of only one drink per day increases a baby's risk of
Diagnostic and Test Procedures
No definitive diagnostic tests exist to identify FAS. Diagnosis depends on a
caregiver's expertise with the specific characteristics associated with FAS.
Experts think that, as a result, FAS is widely underdiagnosed.
Although there is no cure for FAS, children who are diagnosed early --
preferably by preschool age -- have a better chance of overcoming the condition
because from early on their education can be designed to maximize their
Once a child's FAS-related developmental delays are documented, the child is
eligible for curriculum modifications, special education classes, supplemental
classroom aids and other services through the federal Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act.
Because children with FAS are especially sensitive to disruption, a stable,
loving home environment is important. However, caring for a child with FAS can
be enormously stressful for a family because of the learning and behavioral
problems associated with the syndrome. Social services, such as respite care
and stress- and behavior-management services, may help families cope.
Prevention of the secondary conditions associated with FAS may be possible
with educational, health and psychological services for both the child and the
family. This often means working with a variety of professionals, including
teachers, social workers, psychologists, physicians and nurses.
Pregnant women can prevent FAS by abstaining from alcohol throughout their
pregnancies. A woman who drinks alcohol only lightly and occasionally before
she realizes she is pregnant might or might not harm her developing baby.
Because no amount of alcohol use during pregnancy has been proven safe, any
woman who suspects that she might be pregnant should stop drinking immediately.
Women who are trying to get pregnant should also avoid alcohol. This applies to
all types of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, wine coolers and liquor
(such as whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin and rum).
There is no proof that drinking by a father can cause FAS in his child.
However, men who stop drinking during their partner's pregnancy may be better
able to help their partners avoid alcohol.