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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

While pregnant, it is commonly said that you are eating for two. The same goes for alcohol-if you drink while youíre pregnant, your baby is taking a drink as well. This puts your baby at risk for a serious condition called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which is a group of birth defects. FAS is the leading cause of mental and physical birth defects. These defects are irreversible and can include physical, mental and behavioral problems. Although doctors arenít sure how much alcohol youíd have to drink to place your baby at risk, the more you drink, the greater the chance of problems developing. For that reason the best advice is: if youíre pregnant, donít drink alcohol.

Signs and Symptoms

Fetal alcohol syndrome isnít a single birth defect. Itís a cluster or pattern of related problems. The severity of symptoms varies, with some children experiencing them to a greater degree than others. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Small head circumference and brain size
  • Facial malformations, including small eyelid openings, a sunken nasal bridge, an exceptionally thin upper lip, a short, upturned nose and a smooth skin surface between the nose and upper lip.
  • Small teeth
  • Heart defects
  • Joint, limb, and finger deformities
  • Slow physical growth before and after birth
  • Mental retardation and delayed development
  • Abnormal behavior such as short attention span, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, extreme nervousness and anxiety


Doctors havenít identified a safe level of alcohol that a pregnant woman can consume. If youíre in your childbearing years, be aware of the risks of FAS in your future children. To help prevent FAS:

  • Stop drinking alcohol altogether as soon as you know youíre pregnant or even think you might be pregnant. Your babyís brain, heart and blood vessels begin to develop by the third week of pregnancy.
  • Continue to avoid alcohol throughout your pregnancy. FAS is completely preventable in children whose mothers donít drink during pregnancy.
  • Consider giving up alcohol during your childbearing years if youíre sexually active and youíre having unprotected sex. Nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned. At the least, donít engage in binge drinking, which may expose the fetus to the highest amount of alcohol.
  • If you have an alcohol dependency, donít get pregnant until you get help.

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