Pregnancy Home > Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition directly linked to alcohol consumption during pregnancy that often results in birth defects, mental problems, and behavioral problems. Although the condition is permanent, it is also completely preventable. If a woman does not drink alcohol while she is pregnant, her child will not develop this condition. Children who have it may require special help in school, as well as at home.

What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a condition caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy that results in certain birth defects, mental, and behavioral problems.
The effects of fetal alcohol syndrome last a lifetime. Most children with fetal alcohol syndrome have trouble with work and with personal relationships when they become adults. Many have legal problems.
Fetal alcohol syndrome cannot be reversed, but it can be prevented by not drinking alcohol when pregnant.

Understanding Alcohol's Effect on the Fetus

Alcohol in the mother's blood crosses the placenta freely and enters the embryo or fetus through the umbilical cord. Alcohol exposure in the first 3 months of pregnancy can cause structural defects (for example, facial changes). Growth and CNS (central nervous system) problems can occur from drinking alcohol any time during pregnancy. The brain is developing throughout pregnancy and can be damaged at any time.
It is unlikely that one mechanism alone can explain the harmful effects of alcohol on the developing fetus. For example, brain images of some people with fetal alcohol syndrome show that certain areas have not developed normally. Certain cells are not in their proper place and tissues have died in some areas.
There is no known amount of alcohol during pregnancy that is safe. There is no known time during pregnancy when alcohol use is safe.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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