Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) & Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE)

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a set of physical, mental and neurobehavioral birth defects that are associated with the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. Not all babies of mothers who consume alcohol during their pregnancy will develop Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. If a woman has consumed alcohol during her pregnancy and her baby is not diagnosed with FAS, her baby still may have Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE). Fetal Alcohol Effects can be separated into two different categories; Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD).

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is one of the most common causes of mental retardation and the only one that is 100% preventable. The effects are irreversible and last a lifetime.

The effects of FAS include: mental retardation, malformations of the skeletal system and major organ systems (specifically the heart and brain), growth deficiencies, central nervous system problems, poor motor skills, mortality, and problems with learning, memory, social interaction, attention span, problem solving, speech and/or hearing.

There are also facial features that are characteristic of babies with FAS. These features include: small eyes, short or upturned nose, flat cheeks, and thin lips. These features fade as the child grows up, but the child is left with a lifetime of difficulties trying to cope with other effects.

What are Fetal Alcohol Effects?

The two categories for Fetal Alcohol Effects are Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD):

ARND describes the mental and behavioral impairments such as learning disabilities, poor school performance, poor impulse control, and problems with memory, attention and/or judgment.

ARBD describes the malformations of the skeletal system and major organ systems such as defects of the heart, kidneys, bones, and/or auditory system.

How is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome different from Fetal Alcohol Effects?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a result of high doses of alcohol consumption during pregnancy such as binge drinking and/or drinking on a regular basis. Fetal Alcohol Effects are a result of moderate drinking throughout pregnancy. The effects of FAE are still irreversible and lifelong.

Is any amount of alcohol safe to drink? There is no amount of alcohol that is safe to consume during your pregnancy, but the more alcohol consumed, the higher the stakes are for your baby's health.

Light to moderate use (2-4 drinks frequently) can cause Fetal Alcohol Effects. About 10% of infants exposed to alcohol will develop Fetal Alcohol Effects.

Heavy use (5-6 drinks or more frequently) can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. About 30-50% of infants exposed will develop Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

How can I prevent FAS and FAE?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects are 100% preventable for a woman who completely abstains from alcohol during her pregnancy. Therefore, if you are aware that you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you could be pregnant, you should not consume any amount of alcohol.

For more information on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, contact the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at 1-800-66-NOFAS (666-6327)

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.