Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a condition that is caused by a mother consuming alcohol while pregnant. The mother’s baby is adversely impacted by the alcohol, which crosses the placenta into the baby’s bloodstream. The concentration of alcohol is higher in the baby, as it metabolizes alcohol much slower than the mother. Alcohol then disrupts the delivery of oxygen and other nutrients to the baby, causing permanent damage to tissues and organs.
The CDC has stated that no amount of alcohol is safe to consume during pregnancy. The baby is especially vulnerable during the first trimester, but throughout pregnancy, there is no safe level of consumption. Sadly, children born with FAS will face life with physical, cognitive, and behavioral challenges. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a completely preventable condition.
What Is FAS?
FAS is a condition that develops in utero and subsequently causes various problems in the child’s life. The syndrome can involve varying degrees of severity in the areas of physical defects, cognitive issues, and social problems. The earlier the FAS is diagnosed, the better the child’s outcome. Early interventions can help reduce learning and behavioral problems going forward.
Physical Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Facial features, such as small eyes, a small upturned nose, a thin upper lip, and a smooth surface between the nose and lip.
- A small head and smaller brain size
- Deformed limbs, joints, and fingers
- Heart defects
- Kidney problems
- Slow growth, both before and after the birth
- Vision or hearing problems
Behavioral Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Problems with impulse control and behaviors
- Struggling in school
- Difficulty getting along with peers, poor social skills
- Problems staying on task
- Poor concept of time
Cognitive Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Poor memory
- Trouble with balance and coordination
- Learning impairments
- Intellectual disability
- Poor judgment skills
- Mood swings
- Difficulty paying attention
- Poor problem-solving skills
Because many of these symptoms overlap to mimic other childhood disorders it is essential to have the child assessed by a developmental pediatrician. This expert will be able to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms, and then guide the parents toward appropriate support sources.
The Impact of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Living with FAS can be very difficult, and the effects of the disorder are irreversible.
The condition often involves a comorbid or secondary disorder, further complicating the afflicted person’s quality of life. These secondary conditions might include:
- Mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or eating disorders
- Inappropriate sexual behaviors
- Misconduct or aggressive behaviors
- Difficulty completing school
- Substance use
- Difficulty living independently
- Difficulty maintaining employment
It cannot be emphasized enough that FAS is an entirely preventable condition. Once a woman knows she is pregnant she should cease consuming alcohol. If there was heavy consumption in the first trimester prior to confirming the pregnancy, the mother must inform the obstetrician of this so the baby can be closely monitored and the mother can be guided toward treatment.
Obtaining Treatment During Pregnancy
If an expectant mother is struggling with an alcohol use disorder she may have trouble quitting alcohol. This is where a recovery program comes in. Women in need of withdrawal management and recovery services during a pregnancy can obtain the important support needed to maintain abstinence. These programs specialize in helping a pregnant woman overcome a substance use disorder.
There are special considerations for expectant mothers undergoing the withdrawal process. Depending on the severity of the alcohol use disorder (AUD), guiding the woman through the withdrawal symptoms can present certain challenges. Even so, these treatment programs have the expertise to help the pregnant woman safely complete the detox process.
Treatment is available in either outpatient or residential formats. The residential setting allows for more comprehensive monitoring of the pregnancy during treatment. This would be the appropriate setting for an expectant mother with a more serious AUD. The outpatient setting is a good option for women with a milder AUD, and provides the flexibility to reside at home during the treatment program.
Alcohol addiction is a powerful disease. If you are expecting and have an AUD, it is imperative to obtain the support needed to help you quit drinking, for your sake and the sake of your unborn baby.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.