Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Effect of Alcohol Consumption During Pregnancy

What is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)?

FAS is the consequence of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It is the leading cause of permanent intellectual disability in children.

The stigmata of the syndrome include neurodevelopmental disorders, abnormal facial features and growth restriction. The full blown picture of the syndrome is seen only in about 20 percent of the affected children.

Children who do not meet all the criteria of FAS are divided in to 3 groups:

  • Partial FAS:
    Confirmed history of maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy and only some facial features associated with FAS

  • Alcohol-related birth defects:
    Children who show evidence of stunted growth and/or organ function disorders attributable to alcohol exposure during fetal life.

  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder:
    Children with structural nervous system abnormalities like small head size or brain malformation, or neurobehavioral development disorders like deficient cognitive skills, memory, language skills, or learning ability.

Is fetal alcohol syndrome common?

The literature from the U.S shows that each year 3 infants are affected out of 1000 live births.

Alcohol is the commonest form of substance abuse prevalent all over the world. Surely, the incidence could be higher in some parts of the world,

However, the available epidemiological data is unfortunately not comprehensive for the world wide statistics.

How does alcohol consumption during pregnancy affect fetus?

Alcohol freely crosses the placenta and fetus does not have the enzymes to metabolize it. Consequently, on fetus the toxic effects of alcohol are much more pronounced and occur even at low doses of maternal alcohol consumption.

The metabolites of alcohol, ethanol and acetaldehyde, are toxic.
They also easily cross the placenta and impair placental functions and jeopardize fetal development.

Alcohol interferes with the normal functioning of hormones.

  • Alcohol intake alters hormone production, secretion, distribution to the target sites, and the rate at which it is removed from the blood.

  • Alcohol also interferes with the formation of hormone binding proteins, thereby modifying hormone effectivity.

Maternal and fetal hormone imbalance attributable to alcohol consumption during pregnancy jeopardizes the outcome of pregnancy:

  • Hormones are essential for fetal development.

  • They play crucial role in maintaining mother’s body equilibrium to support the pregnancy.

  • Sporadic drinking causes high alcohol blood levels in both mother and fetus, followed by repeated withdrawal episodes in fetus.

Is there a safe limit for alcohol consumption during pregnancy?


The severity of effect of fetal alcohol syndrome on fetal growth is partly related to the level, period and pattern of fetal alcohol exposure.

Though it is true that about 80 percent of the affected children do not attain full spectra of abnormalities that are associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, the neurological development of fetus is adversely affected even at low levels of prenatal alcohol exposure.

Even in absence of full blown fetal alcohol syndrome and also with low alcohol intake, it shows high incidence of neurobehavioral development disorder, intellect impairment and wide variety of congenital malformations.

More the alcohol a pregnant woman drinks, more is the harm inflicted on the fetus. However, the minimum amount of alcohol it takes to cause birth defects is not known.

Can a mother accept even minimum intellect impairment in her offspring knowing that it could have been prevented easily?

Can Fetal Alcohol Syndrome be prevented?

Most certainly!
The effects of alcohol on fetal development are 100% preventable.

No alcohol during pregnancy, no fetal alcohol spectrum disorder!
Yes, it is as simple as that!

No amount of alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy and no time in pregnancy is safe to drink alcohol.

As a matter of fact, any women who might get pregnant should refrain herself from alcohol consumption – a small sacrifice to make for a healthy intelligent child!

Effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy

  • Pregnancy loss :
    Abortion Fetal death

  • Intrauterine growth retardation:
    Microcephaly (small head size)
    Short length
    Low body weight

  • Abnormal facial features:
    Smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip (smooth philtrum)
    Short eye opening (palpebral fissures)
    Epicanthal folds
    Under developed upper jaw bone (maxillary hypoplasia )
    Under developed lower jaw (micrognathia)
    Very thin smooth upper lip

  • Neurobehavioral development disorders:
    Poor coordination
    ADHD: Attention deficit hyperactive disorder
    Language development delay
    Speech defects
    Poor cognitive development
    Impaired reasoning and judgment skills

  • Learning disabilities:
    Poor memory
    School related learning difficulties; notably Low IQ in maths

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Disabilities:
    Vision defects
    Hearing defects

  • Systemic malformation/malfunction involving:

  • The affected children need prompt and efficient help
    The earlier help comes through better the results.

Can Fetal Alcohol Syndrome be cured?

Regretfully No, there is No cure for fetal alcohol syndrome.

Affected children are provided with professional supportive care:

  • Regular medical and dental management
  • Vision and hearing aids
  • Speech therapy
  • Special education programmes to meet their compromised development.

For related pages kindly see the right column.

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Fetus: Growth Stages and Viability

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