Fetal Alchohol Syndrome

Exposure to alcohol during fetal development can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which can have a range of effects, from slight variations in IQ to severe problems in psychological development. FAS can also cause growth retardation and birth defects of major organ systems.

Fetal alcohol syndrome can include abnormalities in three different areas all at once - complications of the brain, growth retardation and facial deformations. Fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related complications can be prevented by avoiding the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. From 1991 to 1995, the CDC recounted a fourfold increase in frequent (which is seven or more drinks per week) and binge (five or more drinks at once) drinking during pregnancy. While on the whole, alcohol usage amid expecting women has dropped since 1995, rates of frequent and binge drinking have yet to drop. The CDC calculates that over 130,000 pregnant women per year in the United States use alcohol at levels proven to augment the threat of conceiving a child with fetal alcohol syndrome or other alcohol-related complications. It has also been shown that a small percentage of women who are aware that they are pregnant admit to "risk drinking" (seven or more drinks per week, or five or more drinks at any one time). Recent CDC findings specify that 14 percent women of conceiving age (18 to 44 years of age) participate in "risk drinking." If a woman is unaware of her pregnancy, these alcohol levels can introduce a risk to the child. Birth defects connected with prenatal alcohol contact can arise in the first three to eight weeks of pregnancy, before a woman is aware she is pregnant. The overall occurrence of fetal alcohol syndrome is not recognized yet. Different studies show prevalence rates that vary from .3 to 2.2 cases per 1,000 births. This suggests that every year in the United States, between 1,200 and 8,800 babies suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. Even more are born with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND). Children with FAS often undergo lifelong costs as a result of "in utero alcohol exposure," such as mental retardation, learning complications and serious behavioral troubles. The Tenth Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health projected that the annual healthcare costs linked with FAS to be $2.8 billion. << Return to Child Health Care >>