Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome discourages drinking while pregnant or trying to conceive

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The more that is understood about newborn birth defects, the clearer it is that a mom-to-be really has a great deal of control over her future baby's health.

In an interview with dailyRX, Susan Barron, Ph.D., psychologist at the University of Kentucky, explains the symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and encourages moms-to-be not to drink.

"Don't drink any alcohol if trying to conceive or pregnant."

Barron tells dailyRx, "There are different degrees of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, with the most serious consequences to the child categorized as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome."

This term was first used in 1973. In order to be designated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a person must present with all three categories:

  1. Facial Abnormalities-which may include lower and rotated ears and a small jaw
  2. Brain Damage-which includes mental retardation and ADHD
  3. Growth Problems-from birth the children are smaller and unable to "catch up." They also can have smaller head circumference.

While extremely serious, Barron reports the diagnosis is much easier for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome compared to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder because of the facial abnormalities.

A study involving children adopted from eastern Europe indicates that 52 percent of the children had some degree of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: 23 percent had mental retardation, 11 percent had birth defects, and 34 percent presented with developmental coordination disorder. Barron notes a colleague working in a Moscow orphanage reports the percentages affected with this spectrum disorder is even higher. Populations genetically predisposed to alcoholism, like American Indians, have offspring affected at an alarming rate.

Barron reports there are therapies for children with this disorder and encourages early treatment. "These children often have serious balance, motor and speech difficulties.Sending them to an appropriate therapist to address their deficits can be helpful."

Children affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorderare born with their prefrontal cortex damaged. According to Barron, "This is the part of the brain responsible for higher social functionings like understanding consequences and knowing the difference between right and wrong. Because of this defect, those with the disorder are often impulsive, easily manipulated and 'used' by others. Socially, these children require a great deal of support in making decision and scheduling their time. Strong parenting can go a long way to help a child."

Barron says, "There are no studies that can 'nail down' the amount of alcohol that is safe to a baby in the womb." Therefore, she admonishes social drinkers to put drinking aside while trying to conceive and during pregnancy. Barron acknowledges that alcoholism is a disease, but says, "Alcoholics wanting to have a healthy child should ante up their support groups and alcoholics anonymous (AA) meetings during this critical time for their future child's development. Seeking medical assistance while establishing and using a support group is imperative for their future child's development."

Even if a woman has been drinking during the first phase of her pregnancy, the child will still benefit from a mom abstaining at any time during her pregnancy, according to Barron. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 11, 2011
Last Updated:
September 12, 2011