Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
(Alcohol in Pregnancy; Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy; FAS)
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.
Alcohol travels through this path and affects the baby's development, particularly the heart and brain.
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Things that raise a baby's chance of FAS are:
- Unplanned pregnancy or not knowing you are pregnant and still drinking
- Alcohol use disorder in the mother
Birth and growth problems depend on when the exposure happened and how much was consumed.
Babies with FAS may have:
- Low birth weight
- Small size and slowed growth
- Small head
- Small eyes
- Short, flat nose
- Flat cheeks
- Small jaws
- Misshapen ears
- Thin upper lip
- Sight and hearing problems
- Problems seeing
As the infant grows, other symptoms may develop, such as:
- Problems eating and sleeping
- Delayed speech
- Learning problems
- Poor coordination
- Behavior problems
- Lack of impulse control
- Problems getting along with other children
Children do not outgrow these problems. Teens and adults often have social and emotional problems. They may also have:
The doctor will ask about your alcohol intake while pregnant. You will also be asked about your child's symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.
There is no cure. The goal is to manage symptoms. Choices are:
- Social services to teach parents how to care for and support a child with special needs
- Special education services to help with learning
Women should not drink alcohol while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
March of Dimes
Greater Toronto Area Intergroup
Women's Health Matters
Cook JL, Green CR, et al; Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: a guideline for diagnosis across the lifespan. CMAJ. 2016 Feb 16;188(3):191-197.
Drinking and your pregnancy. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/DrinkingPregnancy_HTML/pregnancy.htm. Accessed November 4, 2020.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorder. Accessed November 4, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD Last Updated: 5/7/2021