Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) result from prenatal exposure to alcohol. They include alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), partial fetal alcohol syndrome (PFAS), and neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure (ND-PAE).
When a woman consumes alcohol during her pregnancy it can affect both her and her unborn baby. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders create long-term developmental and intellectual disabilities, as well as creating numerous adverse physical effects.
What Are Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders impact an individual whose mother drank during pregnancy. According to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders “are the leading preventable cause of birth defects and intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities.” They continue to inform us that all forms of alcohol create “similar risks.”
The exact number of FASD affected individuals within the U.S. is not known. However, the CDC reports that FASD may affect two percent to five percent of the population. At the high end of the spectrum, this equates to one out of every 20 children. The cost of this on a person’s health and life is high.
What Causes Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?
The CDC reports that within the U.S. “3 million US women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol.” While some believe or are even told that small amounts of alcohol are okay, many experts disagree. The CDC cautions that “There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy.” This damage can occur prior to when a woman realizes she is pregnant.
Alcohol is a neurotoxin that affects the child’s brain and nervous system. The CDC warns that “When a woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby.” Why is this? In utero (within a woman’s womb) a baby can receive alcohol through the placenta. The risk and severity of the damage increases as alcohol consumption rises. Those who engage in regular patterns of binge drinking or heavy drinking suffer a greater risk. Many experts agree that no amount of drinking is safe because even lower amounts can create problems.
Can Low To Moderate Amounts Of Drinking Cause Damage?
As cautioned by the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) and the AAP low to moderate levels of alcohol can affect a baby in the following ways:
- Premature birth
- Reduced academic performance
- Reproductive complications
- Spontaneous abortion (miscarriage)
Research also shows that individuals who are exposed to these doses in the womb can experience changes to their brain development. This impact can last into adulthood. As reported by Vanderbilt University, it may include “dose-dependent gray matter reductions in several brain areas implicated in behavioral consequences of prenatal alcohol exposure.”
What Are The Risks And Signs of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?
According to NOFAS, “Most babies negatively affected by alcohol exposure have no physical birth defects. These children have subtle behavioral and learning problems that are often undiagnosed, or they misdiagnosed as Autism or Attention Deficit Disorder instead of one of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.”
Symptoms of FASD may range from mild to severe, as explained by the CDC. One of the most obvious signs are abnormal facial features. Specifically, the area beneath the nose and above the lip is smooth (this is called the philtrum). A person may also have a thin upper lip and wide-set and narrow eyes.
According to the CDC and other resources, an individual with FASD could experience:
- Bone, kidney, or heart troubles
- Hearing problems
- Problems with vision
- Low weight
- Smaller than normal head size
- Shorter-than-average height
- Babies may struggle to suck
- Babies may have difficulty sleeping
- Delays in speech and language development
- Lack of coordination
- Changes and damage to brain structure
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Delayed reaction time and processing
- Impaired reasoning and judgment
- Impaired intellectual capabilities or low IQ
- Poor attention and/or memory
- Struggles in school, especially in math classes
- Impaired executive functions (planning and organization)
- Various learning disabilities
Later In Life: Many of the above risks can linger into adulthood, causing further problems, including:
- Employment struggles
- Financial troubles
- Legal difficulties
Research presented by Live Science also shows that binge or heavy drinking during pregnancy can affect a baby’s ability to learn even while they’re in the womb.
It is important to remember that you can avoid these risks. Not every woman who drinks during her pregnancy will give birth to a child with FASD. Despite this, the risks are serious enough that women should strongly encourage abstinence during pregnancy.
How Do You Prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?
Unlike certain other disorders or diseases which affect newborns, FASD is one hundred percent preventable. Choosing not to drink during your pregnancy protects your baby from these struggles. If a woman suffers from an alcohol addiction, which is a disease, choosing not to drink may not be so easy. Luckily, help exists.
Even if you’ve drank alcohol through your pregnancy, it’s not too late to stop drinking. The earlier you stop, the smaller the risk becomes. A baby’s brain and body systems continue to develop throughout the pregnancy. The earlier you stop drinking, the sooner these stages of development are better protected.
Are There Treatments For Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?
Sadly, as explained by the CDC, there is no cure for FASD. They also warn us that this disorder lasts a lifetime. Despite these things, they do not that “research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development.” They write that treatments may include:
- Behavior and education therapy
- Parent training
- Other alternative approaches
In addition, “protective factors” may help decrease the impact of FASD and create a higher potential for personal fulfillment.
Can I Get Help If I’m Pregnant And Have A Drinking Problem?
Yes. Fortunately, a wide variety of programs exist today which can help a woman to obtain sobriety during her pregnancy. Not only this, but these programs will aid a woman in developing important skills to further protect herself and her baby. These include strong coping skills and a solid relapse prevention plan. If a woman breastfeeds, the risk of alcohol consumption to a baby does not stop at birth.
These programs could be outpatient or inpatient drug rehabs and a variety of methods to reach these goals. Treatment modalities may include certain behavioral therapies, nutritional support, individual and/or group counseling, family therapy and support, and OB-GYN support. These programs understand the unique needs of pregnant mothers and will aid a woman in developing positive and healthy behaviors for both her and her baby.
We Can Help You Build A Better Life
We want you and your family to live healthy and positive lives. If you’re concerned about your drinking during pregnancy or that of someone close to you, let AlcoholTreatment.net offer you guidance. We can share even more information on alcohol abuse with you, as well as treatment options for your specific needs. Contact us now.
- Alcohol And Pregnancy: Is It A Good Idea?
- Organ Damage From Alcohol Use And Abuse
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder
- Alcohol Addiction In Women
- Self-Medicating With Alcohol
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Alcohol Alert: Fetal Alcohol Exposure and the Brain
- MedlinePlus — Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders