Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: What are the Risks? - Step To Health

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: What are the Risks?

Fetal alcohol syndrome can have devastating consequences for an unborn child. We'll tell you all about it in today's article.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: What are the Risks?

Last update: 21 October, 2021

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. This behavior leads to serious problems that have been collectively referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Some of the disorders include the previously mentioned fetal alcohol syndrome, birth defects, neurological and behavior disorders in the child, and so on.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most serious of all disorders caused by alcohol intake during pregnancy. It involves problems with the neurological development of the child. In addition, it can cause birth defects, like a small head and brain. 

And, most serious of all, there’s no cure for fetal alcohol syndrome. Treatment consists of providing lifelong management for the disabilities that this condition causes. Scientists believe that the incidence of this problem is 0.97 per 1000 live births, which is why it’s currently considered a public health problem.

What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

This condition occurs in children whose mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy. Generally speaking, it causes brain damage and growth problems in the baby. The consequences vary from case to case, but are always irreversible. 

The name fetal alcohol syndrome was coined in 1973. Since then, people have launched campaigns around the world for pregnant mothers to avoid drinking. No amount of alcohol is considered safe during pregnancy. Therefore, the only way to avoid this serious evil is by refraining from drinking.

A pregnant woman at a doctor's appointment.

Causes and risk factors

When an expecting mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy, this substance enters her bloodstream and then crosses the placenta. So, it reaches the developing fetus. In other words, it’s as if you were giving alcohol directly to your baby in your womb. 

Also, you should take into account that the fetus metabolizes alcohol more slowly. Therefore, the levels of this substance immediately become significantly concentrated in the baby’s bloodstream. As a result, it’s difficult to supply the fetus with oxygen and nutrition. This can lead to possible brain damage and difficulties in tissue and organ development.

It’s never safe to drink alcohol during pregnancy. However, the effects can be more serious when you consume alcohol during the first trimester. That’s because it coincides with the beginning of the development of the brain and the heart. Therefore, you shouldn’t drink pregnancy, even if you just suspect you’re pregnant.

Symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome

The severity of the symptoms varies from case to case. Typically, doctors will identify the most obvious at birth due to characteristics such as short stature and facial features. Specifically, clinical manifestations may include the following:

  • Very small head or microcephaly
  • Eyes without full development or microphthalmia
  • Flat or small midface
  • Abnormally small lower jaw or micrognathia

It’s also common for them to have abnormal folds in the hands, or palmar grooves. In addition, they may experience some heart defects and joint issues. After birth, and as the baby develops, new symptoms usually appear that weren’t detected at first.

The most severe defect that can arise is a severe cognitive disability, although different levels of cognitive deficit can also occur. Also, behavioral disorders are common, like nervousness, sudden mood swings, low social skills, and others.

congenital heart disease in children


A professional will diagnose this condition based on the mother’s behavior during pregnancy, the signs that appear at birth and through a medium and long-term follow-up of the child’s development.

You should note that children who suffer from this syndrome are likely to develop mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, addiction, and others. They are also more likely to have an early death by suicide or accident. In addition, they’re more at risk for developing inappropriate sexual behaviors.

In addition to the fact that there’s no cure for this syndrome, there is also no specific treatment for it. The best you can do is early intervention with therapists from various specialties. This will promote the baby’s physical and psychological development in the best way possible.

The only way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is to avoid alcohol, especially if you have an active sex life and are of childbearing age. If a woman has a drinking problem, it’s best to seek help before getting pregnant. 

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