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Understanding Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in America. If you are pregnant, your doctor probably warned you against drinking during your pregnancy because doing so could negatively impact your baby.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 1 in 10 women report alcohol use during pregnancy, and 1 in 22 reported binge drinking while pregnant.[1]

While it can be difficult to abstain from alcohol for nine months, doing so will prevent your baby from developing a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Depending on how much alcohol your baby is exposed to, they can develop mild to severe symptoms. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are a scale of conditions, with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) being the most severe.

Fetal alcohol syndrome leads to physical defects, neurological issues, and behavioral problems. In other words, when a fetus is exposed to alcohol, it can affect every area of their development.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is
  • What causes FAS
  • The effects of FAS
  • How FAS is treated

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)?

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition that babies can develop as a result of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

If your baby is exposed to alcohol before birth they may be affected in a variety of ways. There are a range of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), including:

  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS)
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND)
  • Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD)
  • A neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure (ND-PAE)
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

FAS is the most severe condition that results from exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. Unfortunately, it is a lifelong condition that is incurable. According to the NIAAA, “fetal alcohol spectrum disorders affect 1 to 5% of children in the first grade.”[1]

If your child has FAS, they might experience symptoms like a small head size, vision issues, various deformities, intellectual disabilities, coordination issues, mental health problems, and more. It is important to remember that there is no safe amount of alcohol when you are pregnant.

What Causes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs when you drink during your pregnancy. There is no specific amount of alcohol that leads to FAS. Any amount can cause your child to develop the condition.

When you drink alcohol during pregnancy, it passes through your bloodstream and into the umbilical cord. The umbilical cord is what passes the nutrients you eat to your baby, which means they will receive the alcohol you drink as well. Since babies cannot metabolize alcohol, it stays in their bodies for a long time.

Alcohol can interfere with your baby’s development in many different ways, including:[2]

  • Killing cells in various parts of the fetus, leading to physical development impairments
  • Inhibiting the way that nerves develop
  • Constricting blood vessels and decreasing blood flow to the placenta, leading to a shortage of oxygen and nutrients
  • Creating toxic byproducts that damage the fetus’s brain cells

This condition cannot develop without the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.

Signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome leads to mental and physical defects. Your baby could experience abnormal facial features, limb defects, delays in physical development, and mental or emotional challenges that affect them for the rest of their lives.

The physical effects of FAS include:

  • Small head and brain size
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing issues
  • Deformities in the fingers, limbs, and joints
  • Small eyes, thin upper lip, or a ridge between the nose and upper lip

FAS can lead to neurological issues like:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Coordination and balance issues
  • Problems with critical thinking
  • Hyperactivity and mood swings

The behavioral signs of FAS include:

  • Issues with social skills and communication
  • Trouble in school such as failing classes or being disruptive
  • Impulse control issues

Fetal alcohol effects are far-reaching and cause significant impacts on your child’s life. If you struggle with alcoholism and just found out you are pregnant, you should consider professional treatment. Getting sober could protect your child from lifelong issues that impact their quality of life.

Treatment for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

While FAS is not curable, some of the symptoms are manageable. Certain factors play a role in improving the outlook of your child’s condition, including early diagnosis, a strong support system, and receiving education and social services.

The main treatment options for FAS include:

  • Medications to manage behavioral and attention issues
  • Behavior and education therapy for learning disabilities and emotional troubles
  • Training and education to help you (the parent) support your child efficiently
  • Surgeries for defects that impact the child’s life

Find Help for Alcoholism

If you struggle with alcoholism and are pregnant, it’s time to get help. The sooner you stop drinking, the better off your child will be. At the Mandala Healing Center, we offer evidence-based and compassionate treatment for pregnant people struggling with alcohol abuse.

Contact us today for more information on how to get started.


  1. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): Understanding Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  2. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Alcohol Abuse in Pregnant Women: Effects on the Fetus and Newborn, Mode of Action and Maternal Treatment