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Alcohol and Pregnancy: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Updated on December 19, 2017
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Patrick has been working as a freelance writer for the past 3 years


According to a majority of specialists in the United States, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASDs) like fetal alcohol syndrome is leading cause of developmental disabilities that can be easily prevented. For a fetus and thus the baby, this has severe long term consequences. Here, I will discuss Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in detail, impacts of the disorder on the child and caregivers and the available treatment options.

Drinking while pregnant


A brief history of the disorder

The term Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was first used in 1973 in Lancet, a British medical Journal. in the article, a group of pediatricians and psychiatrists from the University of Washington Medical School had described a range of morphological defects as well as impaired development that typically affect the fetus and thus children of alcoholic mothers. These were shown to include varying pre- and post- natal development impairments, growth impairments, impaired brain as well as facial anomalies. In the United States, FAS, which is caused by consumption of alcohol by pregnant women has been shown to be the leading cause of birth defects and third leading cause of retardation. Although it is highly likely to affect pregnant women who consume high amounts of alcohol, the syndrome may also result even when the mother is just a social drinker. Despite the awareness, and the fact that fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the leading preventable cause of fetal development disabilities, studies have found that approximately 13 percent of the women in America tend to consume alcohol during pregnancy.



Some of the most common non- diagnostic differences associated with this disorder include:

Facial differences associated with the abnormalities of the bone structure

Malformations of various organs and the skeleton

Sensory impairments

Difficulties in coordination as well as reduced muscle tone

Study findings

According to researchers, the consumption of alcohol can affect the fetus at any given period of the pregnancy. However, the period of time the fetus is exposed to alcohol will have different impacts on the fetus. This is to say that the timing of exposure influences possible defects on the child (structural or functional). Typically, the more the mother consumes alcohol, the higher the chances of fetal alcohol syndrome. According to a study carried out by May et al (2013) fetal alcohol syndrome is more likely for pregnant women who consume 15 or more cans of beer during a weekend.
Whatever the case, the amount and rate of consumption as well as the specific period of development will significantly affect the defects. For instance, facial impairments are more likely to occur when the mother consumes large amounts of alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy. Other organs of the body including the heart and bones of the fetus are likely to be affected when the mother consumes large amounts of alcohol during the first three months of her pregnancy. On the other hand, the entire central nervous system of the fetus is highly vulnerable to impairments during the entire pregnancy period. whereas alcohol has the potential to affect some cells of the brain structure early on in the pregnancy, particularly the corpus callosum, it also has the potential to negatively affect connections between the cells of the brain as well as the rate at which they transmit electrical impulses later on in the pregnancy. With effects on the cerebellum, alcohol may affect balance, attention as well as the classical conditioning system.

Available treatment and recommendations

Avoiding alcohol during the pregnancy period help prevent the chances of FAS. However, a number of treatment strategies can be used to help manage the disorder. For instance, stimulants and non- stimulants have been used for managing ADHD and hyperactivity among children with FAS. Most medications today are currently under research, while others are being used as experimental drugs. Prenatal nutritional interventions are also being promoted given that studies have shown most of the women who consume alcohol tend to have nutritional deficits. With regards to speech, language and heating problems, children may be referred to psychiatrists and speech therapist that provide students with appropriate skills they can use to communicate effectively. However this requires a prior assessment, which determines the specific impairments of the child.


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