When a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, the fetus after being born can suffer from various conditions like fetal alcohol effects (FAE), alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD), and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). The most severe condition of these is fetal alcohol syndrome.
Alcohol use in pregnant women is documented to be around 9.4% and 2.6% are binge drinking cases as per the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Studies have shown the rate of alcohol consumption to be of 52% in women of childbearing age (18-44 years) and 15% of binge drinking.
What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
The infants whose mother has had alcohol regularly during pregnancy will display fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. These disorders can be mild, moderate or severe and can be physical, behavioral, cognitive or all of them.
The most severe condition is fetal alcohol syndrome and the problems associated with it are vision, hearing and memory problems. They have short attention span, difficulty in learning and communication. The symptoms vary from person to person, but are most often permanent. It leads to fetal alcohol syndrome in adults as well.
What Are the Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
The symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome can be categorized into the system it falls under. We shall look at the most commonly seen symptoms:
- Wide-set eyes, very thin upper lip, upturned nose, smooth skin between upper lip and nose
- Deformed limbs, fingers and joints
- Reduced head circumference and brain size
- Heart, kidney and bone defects
- Vision and hearing problems
- Slow physical growth of the infant before and after birth
Problems of the brain & CNS:
- Poor memory, co-ordination and balance
- Difficulty in problem solving, reasoning and identifying consequences of choices made
- Delay in development, learning disorders and intellectual disability
- Reduced attention span and difficulty in processing information
- Difficulty in making judgment, moodiness, jitteriness and hyperactivity
Social & behavioral disorders:
- Poor social skills, difficulty in adjusting in school and getting along with others
- Behavioral and impulse control problems
- Difficulty in getting tasks done and switching tasks
- Poor concept of time
- Having a hard time in planning and working towards a goal
When to See a Doctor
It is important to seek help from the doctor if you cannot stop drinking and are pregnant. Early diagnosis can help in reducing the long term problems in children.
When dealing with adopted or foster care children, it is not known whether the mother had alcohol during pregnancy. In case the child exhibits any symptom associated with FAS, it should be brought to the attention of the doctor.
What Are the Causes of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
When alcohol is consumed during pregnancy, the following occurs in the body:
- Alcohol crosses the placenta by entering the blood steam and reaches the fetus.
- The alcohol metabolism rate of the fetus is much slower than that of the adult and hence the concentration of blood alcohol is higher in the fetus.
- The presence of alcohol impairs the delivery of oxygen, nutrients to the tissue and organs of the fetus, as well as the brain.
When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol in any amount, the unborn child is at risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome. The higher the quantity of alcohol is, the higher the risk is. For this problem, binge drinking causes more harm than having small amount of alcohol. There is no level of alcohol which can be considered as safe to be had during pregnancy.
Alcohol consumption during a particular phase of pregnancy can determine the level of harm done to the fetus. It is most harmful in the first trimester; however, alcohol during pregnancy is always harmful.
What Are the Treatments for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
Fetal alcohol syndrome does not have any cure, and the physical and mental problems will last for a lifetime. In case the diagnosis happens early, intervention can be done to prevent the development of secondary disabilities. The following interventional measures can be taken:
- Seek help from speech therapists, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and special education teacher
- Teach social skills, walking and talking early
- Go to special school to help in learning and behavioral issues
- Find counseling provided to parents and family to deal with the child’s needs
- Take medications for certain health conditions
- Stop the mother’s alcoholism to prevent future cases of fetal alcohol syndrome and help in better parenting skills
How to Prevent Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
The most effective method of preventing fetal alcohol syndrome is to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In case a woman has alcohol occasionally prior to realizing the presence of pregnancy, it does not do much harm to the fetus.
There is no safe level determined to be had during pregnancy and for this reason. If a woman is attempting to conceive or suspects of being pregnant, she should discontinue alcohol intake immediately. Alcohol intake by father has not been linked with fetal alcohol syndrome; however, men who abstain from alcohol can help their partners better.
Watch the video below to understand why it is extremely dangerous for a pregnant woman to drink alcohol beverage: