Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 17 March 2021

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The most serious fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is fetal alcohol syndrome. When a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, a group of birth defects may occur. Some conditions associated with fetal alcohol syndrome (FASDs) include:

  • Alcohol-related birth defects
  • Alcohol-related neuro-development disorder
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome
  • A neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure

FAS and other spectrum diseases have varying effects on infants. The signs and symptoms may be moderate to extreme. They can contain the following:

  • Defects with the heart, kidney, and bones
  • Learning disabilities and low IQ
  • Problems with memory, coordination, and attention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Problems with sleep
  • Difficulty suckling as an infant

As an individual gets older, the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome appear to worsen.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Causes

Alcohol is the leading preventable source of birth defects, like wine, beer, and liquor.

Since a baby’s liver isn’t completely formed in the womb to absorb or break down alcohol, it can easily reach and damage the baby’s organs.

When a pregnant woman drinks during the first trimester, when the baby’s brain is already developing, some of the more serious complications occur. However, the second and third trimesters are not without danger. The brain is still growing at that time, and even moderate levels of alcohol will cause this phase to be disrupted.

There is no such thing as a “legal" level of alcohol for pregnant women to ingest. There is still no time that it is deemed appropriate to ingest alcohol when pregnant.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Symptoms

There are a variety of complications associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, including:

Physical abnormalities:

  • Small head and brain size
  • Vision or hearing defects
  • Joint, limb, and finger deformities
  • Distinctive facial features like small eyes, thin upper lip, and a ridge between the nose and upper lip

Neurological complications:

  • Learning problems
  • Coordination and balance difficulties
  • Trouble reasoning
  • Hyperactivity
  • Moodiness

Behavioral problems:

  • Poor social skills
  • Difficulty in school
  • Poor impulse control

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnosis

There is no way to tell whether an infant has fetal alcohol syndrome after a blood test. Some of the signs are close to those of ADHD.

Doctors look for irregular facial characteristics, lower-than-average height and weight, a small head span, concentration and hyperactivity issues, and impaired balance when diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome. They also ask if the mother drank when she was pregnant, and if so, how much she drank.

While fetal alcohol syndrome effects cannot be reversed, early detection and care will help a child’s growth and outlook. According to a study, children do best when they:

  • receive a diagnosis before 6 years old
  • Are in a loving, nurturing, and stable home during their school years
  • are protected and not exposed to violent environments
  • receive special education
  • receive input from social services
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Treatments

Medications may aid in the treatment of behavioral and educational issues. Parents may often undergo instruction in order to assist their children. There are no drugs available to treat fetal alcohol syndrome. Certain medications, on the other hand, can help with symptoms such as hyperactivity, inability to focus, and anxiety.

The following prescriptions are among them:

  • Antidepressants treat difficulties with irritability, moods, aggression, sleep, and problems in school.
  • Anti-anxiety drugs.
  • Stimulants to treat behavioral issues such as hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating, and poor impulse control.
  • Neuroleptics used to treat behavioral problems as well as aggression and anxiety.

A child with fetal alcohol syndrome should be carefully examined to determine whether his or her medication has to be improved.

Complementary treatments can be beneficial in certain cases. They are as follows:

  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Exercise
  • Yoga

Treatment for a mother who is addicted to drinking is often prescribed. Not only can this serve to avoid potential fetal alcohol syndrome problems in future children, but it will also teach the mother how to help her child with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Complications

Later in life, fetal alcohol syndrome may lead to behavioral issues. There are some of them:

  • Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, eating disorders
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Inability to stay in school or complete their education
  • Trouble living independently
  • Difficulties with employment
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Behavioral problems like aggression, inappropriate social conduct, violence
  • Untimely death by suicide, accident, or homicide
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Prevention
  • If you believe you have an alcohol addiction, get treatment before being pregnant. Professionals who specialize in addiction treatment are available.
  • When attempting to conceive, avoid consuming alcoholic beverages. Whether you’re either intoxicated when you find out you’re pregnant or believe you’re pregnant, you should stop right away.
  • When you’re breastfeeding, stay away from alcohol. Fetal alcohol syndrome does not affect children whose mothers do not consume alcohol when breastfeeding.
  • Consider giving up drinking completely if you’re sexually active and have unprotected intercourse.


Referenced on 2.3.2021:

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics: “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders,” “Health Issues of Premature Babies.”
  2. CDC: “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders,” “FASDs: Treatments,” “Alcohol use in pregnancy,” “Alcohol and pregnancy questions and answers.”
  3. KidsHealth.org: " Fetal Alcohol Syndrome."
  4. Mayo Clinic: “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Symptoms & Causes,” “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnosis & Treatment.”
  5. National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS): “Key Facts on Alcohol and Pregnancy."
  6. March of Dimes: “Alcohol during pregnancy.”
  7. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Tobacco, alcohol, drugs and pregnancy.”
  8. https://www.webmd.com/baby/fetal-alcohol-syndrome#1

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