Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Avoiding alcohol during pregnancy is the best way to ensure a healthy baby

Alcohol is a direct toxin to the growing cells of a fetus, especially cells located in the central nervous system. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects by killing cells or preventing them from dividing properly. The damage lasts a lifetime.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is a term describing the range of effects that can occur in a baby whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most severe form of the disease.

Causes

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are the leading cause of mental disabilities in the United States. Yet the conditions are 100 percent preventable. If you do not drink alcohol during pregnancy, your baby will not have FASD.

Babies developing in the womb have the same blood alcohol level as their mothers but are unable to process the alcohol. If you consume four or more drinks a day while pregnant, your baby likely will have fetal alcohol syndrome. One or more drinks a day during pregnancy leads to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, an estimated 40,000 newborns each year are affected by FAS and FASD, and have minor to major disabilities.

Symptoms

How a child’s genes express themselves may be altered by alcohol. In addition, alcohol has a devastating impact on the brain. Children with FAS and FASD have smaller brains, certain physical characteristics, intellectual disabilities, behavioral problems and birth defects. As a child with FAS or FASD gets older, problems with sleeping, paying attention, judgment, mental health and social behaviors are likely.

Overview

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is a term describing the range of effects that can occur in a baby whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most severe form of the disease.

Causes

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are the leading cause of mental disabilities in the United States. Yet the conditions are 100 percent preventable. If you do not drink alcohol during pregnancy, your baby will not have FASD.

Babies developing in the womb have the same blood alcohol level as their mothers but are unable to process the alcohol. If you consume four or more drinks a day while pregnant, your baby likely will have fetal alcohol syndrome. One or more drinks a day during pregnancy leads to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, an estimated 40,000 newborns each year are affected by FAS and FASD, and have minor to major disabilities.

Symptoms

How a child’s genes express themselves may be altered by alcohol. In addition, alcohol has a devastating impact on the brain. Children with FAS and FASD have smaller brains, certain physical characteristics, intellectual disabilities, behavioral problems and birth defects. As a child with FAS or FASD gets older, problems with sleeping, paying attention, judgment, mental health and social behaviors are likely.

There is no cure for FAS and FASD but early intervention can lessen the effects of the condition. Research shows that when children are diagnosed before age 6, live in a loving and stable home environment, are removed from violence, and have access to special education and social services, they can more easily reach their full potential.

FASD affects individuals differently. In general, people with FASD need many health services including:

Early Intervention

Services offered between birth and age three can greatly improve your child’s ability to talk, walk and interact with other people. Occupational and speech therapy are often needed.

Dental Care

Many children and adults with FAS have dental abnormalities and need extensive care. It is important to find a dentist who understands that people with FASD and FAS may need extra time for treatment because they often have trouble remaining still and do not like to be touched.

Audiology

FASD often causes ear problems, including chronic ear infections. This can lead to speech delays.

Education Therapy

Children with FASD can often learn material well but may struggle to retain new knowledge. Specialized math training is effective. Executive functioning training teaches skills such as memory, cause and effect, reasoning, planning and problem solving.

Behavior Management

People with FASD and FAS often experience anger, anxiety and depression at different times in their lives. Pediatric psychiatrists and therapists for adults teach coping skills and strategies for dealing with these situations.

Social Training

Children with FASD need guidance so they can learn how to interact with friends and socialize with others.

Parent Training

Coach-led therapy teaches positive interactions between parents and children with FASD to reduce parent stress and improve child behavior.

Medicine Therapy

FASD symptoms can be improved with various medicines. Antidepressants address feelings of depression and anti-social behaviors. Anti-anxiety drugs treat anxiety and aggression. Stimulants ease hyperactivity and poor impulse control.

Specialized Care

Depending on the extent of your child’s FASD, you may need a cardiologist or pulmonologist to address heart and lung problems. An otolaryngologist assists with ear, nose and throat issues. Seizures and other issues resulting from brain damage require the care of a neurologist.

Treatment

There is no cure for FAS and FASD but early intervention can lessen the effects of the condition. Research shows that when children are diagnosed before age 6, live in a loving and stable home environment, are removed from violence, and have access to special education and social services, they can more easily reach their full potential.

FASD affects individuals differently. In general, people with FASD need many health services including:

Early Intervention

Services offered between birth and age three can greatly improve your child’s ability to talk, walk and interact with other people. Occupational and speech therapy are often needed.

Dental Care

Many children and adults with FAS have dental abnormalities and need extensive care. It is important to find a dentist who understands that people with FASD and FAS may need extra time for treatment because they often have trouble remaining still and do not like to be touched.

Audiology

FASD often causes ear problems, including chronic ear infections. This can lead to speech delays.

Education Therapy

Children with FASD can often learn material well but may struggle to retain new knowledge. Specialized math training is effective. Executive functioning training teaches skills such as memory, cause and effect, reasoning, planning and problem solving.

Behavior Management

People with FASD and FAS often experience anger, anxiety and depression at different times in their lives. Pediatric psychiatrists and therapists for adults teach coping skills and strategies for dealing with these situations.

Social Training

Children with FASD need guidance so they can learn how to interact with friends and socialize with others.

Parent Training

Coach-led therapy teaches positive interactions between parents and children with FASD to reduce parent stress and improve child behavior.

Medicine Therapy

FASD symptoms can be improved with various medicines. Antidepressants address feelings of depression and anti-social behaviors. Anti-anxiety drugs treat anxiety and aggression. Stimulants ease hyperactivity and poor impulse control.

Specialized Care

Depending on the extent of your child’s FASD, you may need a cardiologist or pulmonologist to address heart and lung problems. An otolaryngologist assists with ear, nose and throat issues. Seizures and other issues resulting from brain damage require the care of a neurologist.

Indiana University Health Medical Genetics conducts extensive ongoing research on FASD and FAS. The IU School of Medicine Indiana Alcohol Research Center offers research information for the most up-to-date treatments for these conditions.

Research

Indiana University Health Medical Genetics conducts extensive ongoing research on FASD and FAS. The IU School of Medicine Indiana Alcohol Research Center offers research information for the most up-to-date treatments for these conditions.

Patient Stories for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This government website is focused on the prevention of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Information on the condition, research, data and statistics and scientific articles are available.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Center for Excellence

This website is a federal initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It provides extensive information on diagnosis, treatments, research and prevention of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, including links to local resources.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This government website is focused on the prevention of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Information on the condition, research, data and statistics and scientific articles are available.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Center for Excellence

This website is a federal initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It provides extensive information on diagnosis, treatments, research and prevention of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, including links to local resources.