Foetal alcohol syndrome 101

You’re pregnant and your doctor has advised you steer clear of alcohol. But it can’t be such a big deal, right? Surely the odd glass of wine won’t do much damage? Wrong.

Rather safe than sorry!

If you drink during your pregnancy, there’s a high risk that your baby could be born with foetal alcohol syndrome. Here’s what you need to know about this serious condition, and what you can do to prevent it.

What is Foetal Alcohol Syndrome? (FAS)

FAS is a pattern of mental, physical and behavioural problems that range from mild to severe.

These problems could include:

  • Poor growth in the womb, resulting in low birth weight and/or small head size.
  • Delayed development (i.e. your child doesn’t reach his developmental milestones).
  • Heart abnormalities.
  • Vision and/or hearing problems.
  • Language and speech delays.
  • Neurological problems.
  • Memory problems.
  • Learning disorders.
  • Psychological problems.
  • Behavioural problems.

Children with FAS usually have abnormal facial features. These include small eyes, a thin upper lip, and a smooth skin surface between the nose and upper lip.

What causes FAS?

FAS is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Even small amounts of alcohol can pass across the placenta to your growing foetus, where it can damage your child’s brain, central nervous system and organs.

Your foetus processes alcohol much slower than you do. Because of this, the alcohol may prevent oxygen and other nutrients from reaching your baby.

How can FAS be prevented?

FAS is completely preventable if you avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Remember that no amount of alcohol is safe: even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to brain dysfunction and behavioural problems in children.

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If you find it hard to stop drinking before or during your pregnancy, it’s important to talk to your doctor. The most damage to the foetus occurs during the first trimester.

How is FAS diagnosed?

If you used alcohol during pregnancy, and you’re worried that your child’s health may be affected, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis from a doctor.

Your doctor will base the diagnosis of FAS on the following features:

  • Poor growth during and after pregnancy.
  • Abnormal facial features (as mentioned above).
  • Central nervous system problems.
  • Neurobehavioral disabilities.

How can FAS be managed?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for FAS. If your child has the condition, your doctor will focus on managing the following:

  • The conditions that tend to occur with FAS (e.g. eye, ear and dental problems).
  • Your child’s nutrient intake (many children with FAS don’t get enough fibre, calcium, or vitamins D, E and K through their diet).
  • Behavioural and learning problems (e.g. temper tantrums, hyperactivity, and difficulty paying attention).

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