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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Children

What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a set of health problems that your baby may have if you drink alcohol while you are pregnant.

What is the cause?

Drinking any amount of beer, wine, or hard liquor while you are pregnant can cause FAS. The more you drink, the greater the chance your baby will be born with problems. The problems caused by drinking alcohol are different throughout your pregnancy. If you drink:

  • In the first 3 months, your baby may be born with a small brain, physical problems, and severe learning problems.
  • In the next 3 months, there is a greater risk that you will have a miscarriage.
  • In the last 3 months, your baby may be born with learning, growth, and behavior problems.

Not all babies whose mothers drink during pregnancy are born with FAS. It is not understood why some babies are born with problems and others are not.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • A small head size, delayed growth and short height as an adult
  • Flat shape of face and nose, small eyes, and upper lip and mouth problems such as a cleft palate
  • Bone, joint, muscle, kidney or heart problems
  • Repeated ear infections or hearing problems
  • Being slow to learn or unable to talk, walk, read, or write
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

More than a third of children with FAS develop drug and alcohol problems by the time they are young adult. Many have anger control problems and may be violent. They are at high risk for getting into trouble with the law.

How is it diagnosed?

A healthcare provider can diagnose FAS by:

  • Reviewing your pregnancy and birth history
  • Giving your child a physical exam
  • Testing your child’s abilities to respond, communicate, move, and learn
  • Measuring facial features

How is it treated?

Some problems caused by FAS can be treated. For example, heart problems can often be helped by surgery. Plastic surgery can help correct severe face deformities.

Special education classes in school can help if your child has learning or behavior problems. All public schools in the United States offer special classes for students with learning problems who are between the ages of 3 and 19.

Seeing a mental health therapist can help you and your child deal with depression, learning disabilities, aggression, or anger.

What can I do to help my child?

FAS can only be prevented by not drinking during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant.

If you suspect that your baby has FAS, or any of the problems listed above, get professional help. Children with FAS need early diagnosis and medical treatment.

If you know a woman who is pregnant and drinking, talk with her about stopping drinking. If she has a problem with repeated drinking, a medical or mental health professional may be able to help her quit.

You may want to contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-10-10
Last reviewed: 2012-05-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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