Alcohol use during pregnancy is the leading known preventable cause of birth defects that can range from mild to severe physical abnormalities and a wide array of cognitive, behavioral, and social deficits.  

An estimated 40,000 newborns are affected every year by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), an umbrella term that includes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and other alcohol-related disorders. The use of alcohol can disrupt the development of a fetus at any stage during a pregnancy, and that includes even the earliest stages before a woman even knows she is pregnant. 

Since their livers aren’t fully formed, developing babies lack the ability to process alcohol, meaning they absorb all of the alcohol their mother consumes and retain the same blood alcohol level as her. It is vitally important to remember that no amount of alcohol is known to be safe for a developing baby before birth. Even just one glass of wine or one cocktail can be damaging to a young life in the womb. 

August is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Month, so let’s explore what the effects of FASD are and how it can be prevented moving forward.

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to a range of consequences that collectively make up Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Not all signs and symptoms are present in all children with the disorder. This includes:

  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), or intellectual disabilities or behavioral issues 
  • Alcohol-related physical birth defects (ARBD)
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), the most severe end of the spectrum, including both neurodevelopmental disorder and birth defects 
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome, or the presence of some signs and symptons of fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure, or problems functioning due to neurocognitive impairments like problems with memory, impulse control, communication, mental health, and daily living skills

Physical issues amongst children born with FASD may include:

  • Abnormal facial features, such as small eye openings, a thin upper lip, or flattened ridges between the nose and upper lip
  • Small head size
  • Low body weight
  • Shorter-than-average height
  • Vision or hearing problems 
  • Defects in the heart, kidneys, or bones
  • Central nervous system disorders 

Cognitive or developmental issues may include:

  • Poor coordination
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Difficulty with attention or memory
  • Learning difficulties in school
  • Speech and language delays
  • Intellectual disability or low IQ
  • Poor reasoning and judgement skills
  • Anti-social and risk-taking behaviors 

Nearly 1 in 100 babies have FASD, which is nearly the same rate as Autism. FASD is more prevalent than Down Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, Cerebral Palsy, SIDS, and Spina Bifida combined. 

How can FASD be prevented?

The only way to prevent FASD is for a woman to avoid alcohol use during pregnancy. It can take 4 to 6 weeks before a woman knows she is pregnant, during which time a developing fetus could be exposed to alcohol. Therefore, it is advised that women should not drink alcohol if they are sexually active and not using birth control methods. 

Patterns of exposure known to place a fetus at greatest risk for FASD include consuming four or more drinks per occasion and more than seven drinks per week. 

If a woman has already used alcohol during pregnancy, it is never too late to stop. Brain growth takes place throughout pregnancy, and so the sooner a woman stops drinking while pregnant, the safer it will be for her and her baby. 

How can FASD be treated?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders last a lifetime. While there is no cure or specific treatment for FASDs, early intervention services can help reduce some of the effects and may prevent secondary disabilities. Intervention services can include:

  • Early intervention to help with learning and social skills
  • Medical care for health problems, such as heart abnormalities or vision problems
  • Medications to help with symptons
  • Vocational and life skills training
  • Counseling to benefit the parents and family in working with a child’s behavioral problems
  • A team that may include a speech terapist, physical and occupational therapists, special education teacher, and a psychologist
  • Addressing alcohol and other substance use problems 

Treating a mother’s alcohol use problem can lead to better parenting and prevent future pregancies from being affected by FASD. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use, seek out help. A wide range of resources are available to you! 

If you’ve given birth to a child with FASD, ask about counseling for substance use disorder that can help you overcome your misuse of alcohol or other substances. 

What can I do?

Prevention begins with education. You can help prevent FASD by leading those who ask about alcohol and pregnancy in the right direction. 

Raising public awareness about the risks of prenatal alcohol exposure on a developing child is paramount. At Windward Way, we believe education is key in influencing the choices made by women of childbearing age. 

By helping women who may have a dependence to alcohol, Windward Way can provide access to therapeutic services that could prevent pregnancies – both now and in the future – from being affected by alcohol. Our individualized treament for women provides a nurturing and supportive space that will guide you through the healing process and into a happier and more fulfilling tomorrow.

Give us a call today at 855-491-7694.