2OverviewFetal alcohol syndrome refers to growth, mental, and physical problems that may occur in a baby when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy.
3Symptoms Poor growth while the baby is in the womb and after birth Decreased muscle tone and poor coordinationDelayed development and significant functional problems in three or moremajor areas: thinking, speech, movement, or social skills (as expected for the baby's age)Heart defects
4TreatmentWomen who are pregnant or who are trying to get pregnant should avoid drinking any amount of alcohol. Pregnant women with alcoholism should join an alcohol abuse rehabilitation program and be checked closely by a health care provider throughout pregnancy.
5CausesUsing or abusing alcohol during pregnancy can cause the same risks as using alcohol in general. However, it poses extra risks to the fetus. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it easily passes across the placenta to the fetus. Because of this, drinking alcohol can harm the baby's development.A pregnant woman who drinks any amount of alcohol is at risk, since no "safe" level of alcohol use during pregnancy has been established. However, larger amounts appear to increase the problems. Binge drinking is more harmful than drinking small amounts of alcohol.Timing of alcohol use during pregnancy is also important. Alcohol use appears to be the most harmful during the first 3 months of pregnancy However, drinking alcohol anytime during pregnancy can be harmful.
6Tests & diagnosisA physical exam of the baby may reveal a heart murmur or other heart problems. As the baby grows, there may be signs of delayed mental development. There also may be structural problems of the face and skeleton.Tests include:Blood alcohol level in pregnant women who show signs of being drunk (intoxicated)Brain imaging studies (CT or MRI) shows abnormal brain developmentPregnancy ultrasound shows slowed growth of the fetus
7PrognosisThe outcome for infants with fetal alcohol syndrome varies depending on the extent of symptoms, but almost none have normal brain development.Infants and children with fetal alcohol syndrome have many different problems, which can be difficult to manage. Children do best if diagnosed early and referred to a team of providers who can work with their families on educational and behavioral strategies that best fit the individual child’s needs.
8PreventionAvoiding alcohol during pregnancy prevents fetal alcohol syndrome. Counseling can help prevent recurrence in women who have already had a child with fetal alcohol syndrome.Sexually active women who drink heavily should use birth control and control their drinking behaviors, or stop using alcohol before trying to conceive.
9Complications Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may result in: Miscarriage or stillbirthPremature deliveryComplications seen in the infant may include:Abnormal heart structureBehavior problemsInfant deathMental retardationProblems in the structure of the head, eyes, nose, or mouthPoor growth before birthSlow growth and poor coordination after birth
10When to contact a doctor Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you are drinking alcohol regularly or heavily, and are finding it difficult to cut back or stop. Also, call if you are drinking alcohol in any amount while you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.