Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) belongs to a group of health problems called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). It happens when a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy. The alcohol can cause birth and growth defects in the baby. These defects make up FAS.
Alcohol can cross from the mother's blood to the baby's blood. Even a small amount of any type can harm a growing baby.
Blood Traveling Through Mother's Placenta to Baby
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Things that raise your baby's chance of FAS are:
Birth and growth problems depend on when the exposure happened and how much was consumed.
Babies with FAS may have:
As the infant grows, other symptoms may develop, including:
Children do not outgrow these problems. Teens and adults often have social and emotional problems. They may also have:
You will be asked about your alcohol intake while pregnant. The child's growth will be checked. A physical exam will be done. FAS may be found due to:
Finding FAS early can help your child get proper care.
There is no one treatment for FAS. Early intervention is helpful, as well as a supportive, nurturing home. The doctor may advise hearing and vision tests, as well as testing for any other health problems from FAS.
Professional support helps a family cope with caring for a child with special needs. This includes parent training. You can learn ways to handle behavioral problems and stress.
Programs designed to meet your child's needs can help with learning. Messages may need to be repeated. Tasks may need to be broken down into smaller steps.
A supportive environment:
To prevent FAS:
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
March of Dimes
Greater Toronto Area Intergroup
Women's Health Matters
Chaudhuri JD. Alcohol and the developing fetus—A review. Med Sci Monit. 2000;6(5):1031-1041.
Drinking and your pregnancy. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at:
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Published 2006. Accessed July 2, 2018.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114397/Fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorder . Updated November 6, 2017. Accessed July 2, 2018.
Nayak RB, Murthy P. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Indian Pediatr. 2008;45(12):977-983.
Prenatal exposure to alcohol. Alcohol Res Health. 2000;24(1):32-41.
Thackray H, Tifft C. Fetal alcohol syndrome. Pediatr Rev. 2001;22(2):47-55.
Last reviewed May 2018 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 7/2/2018