Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the group of signs and symptoms that appear as birth defects as a result of a woman’s use of alcohol during her pregnancy. FAS is the only major cause of birth defects that is 100% preventable.
Every year 12,000 babies are born with FAS in the US. 60,000 are born with some kind of alcohol-related abnormalities and developmental issues. Thus it is the number one cause of mental retardation in the United States.
FAS affects 1 in 100 infants in the US each year, which is more than Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) combined. The lifetime cost per child with FAS can rise up to $2,000,000 and there is no cure.
Alcohol absorbed through the placenta by a fetus can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, including before a woman knows she’s pregnant. All types of alcoholic drinks are equally harmful.
During the earlier stages of pregnancy, the developing fetus absorbs the alcohol that the mother consumes through the placenta. Alcohol interferes with the migration and organization of nerve cells of the fetus, creating structural deformities and deficiencies in the brain. This leads to behavioral issues, low IQ, mental retardation, and seizures.
Drinking later in pregnancy causes further brain damage to the developing hippocampus. This causes auditory and visual impairments (deficits in the ability to encode visual or auditory information). More severe FAS comes with facial abnormalities, cleft palates, and growth retardation, along with these brain deficiencies.
The main cosmetic symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome in a child are reduced eye-opening, smooth philtrum, and thin upper lip. Other symptoms can be altered growth of midface and brain, prenatal and postnatal growth deficits, deafness, blindness or seizures, cleft palate, congenital heart defects, epicanthic folds, high arched palate, poorly aligned or abnormal teeth, increased distance between eyes, micrognathia, and many other.
The damage to the Central Nervous System can be assessed in structural, neurological and functional impairments areas. Structural damages manifest as microcephaly or other abnormalities in
brain structure, like agenesis of the corpus callosum (absolute or partial absence of corpus callosum, part of the brain which connects the left and the right part of cerebral hemispheres and facilitates interhemispheric communication), or cerebellar hypoplasia (heterogeneous group of disorder of cerebellar maldevelopment presenting as early onset non-progressive lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movement, low muscle tone, and motor learning disability). Neurological problems take the hard form (epilepsy or seizures), or soft form (impaired fine motor skills, poor hand-eye coordination, clumsiness). Functional impairments refer to developmental disabilities. Main cognitive problems can be learning disabilities, speech delays, intellectual disability or low IQ, poor reasoning and judgment skills.
There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time and no safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. Despite this 1 in 10 pregnant women report drinking alcohol, 1 in 33 binge drink. If you or someone you know even suspects they are pregnant it is essential to their child’s future that they do not drink during their 9 months, and get treatment if they cannot quit alone.