Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Say No to Drinking During Pregnancy

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Say No to Drinking During Pregnancy

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

We often hear about doctors and even any layperson recommending pregnant women to avoid drinking alcohol. Well, drinking for a woman is generally a taboo and judgmental issue, but here drinking alcohol for a pregnant woman can pose several negative health outcomes for a developing fetus. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol it can pass from the bloodstream and through the placenta to the developing baby. This alcohol can interfere with the baby’s development leading to various physical, cognitive, and behavioral issues. This is called fetal alcohol syndrome or FAS. FAS is a condition that can occur in a child whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy.

Research on FAS

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the most serious of the group of FASDs. It is a chronic condition that cannot be cured. The effects of prenatal alcohol consumption have been known for centuries, including mention of it in Greek and biblical texts, as well as in art and literature from ancient times. A study was conducted that investigated the effects of chronic alcoholism on alcoholics (mainly mothers), which resulted in the following: miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, stunted growth, and psychosomatic changes with highly specific face traits and deformities. Patients described brief palpebral fractures and certain facial traits associated with FAS, such as a thin upper lip and smooth philtrum—the space in the nose between the top lip and upper lip.

Also Read: Teenage Pregnancy and Its Impact on Mental Health

The exact number of people with FASD is unknown. Diagnosis can be difficult due to the wide range of symptoms and the fact that not all pregnant women find it easy to talk to their healthcare provider about their concerns. Hence it can be said that sometimes people with mild to moderate Fetal alcohol syndrome can never be diagnosed. Less than two cases of FASD are thought to occur in the US for every 1,000 live births, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other scientists. In the United States and Western Europe, the frequency of the full spectrum of disorders (FASD) may reach 1 to 5 out of every 100 children, according to studies.

Neurodevelopmental Impact of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure:

Researchers from the CDC discovered in 2019 that 1 in 9 expectant mothers drank alcohol within 30 days. In later studies, it was found that PAE, in combination with FAS, could lead to behavioral, cognitive, and learning difficulties, including ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and SPL (Speech and Language Loss) in children who lacked facial and other facial features.

The connection between neurodevelopmental effects (which are related to prenatal exposure) and the broad range of outcomes associated with PAE eventually led to the development of the term ‘FASD’ (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders). Subsequent studies also identified at-risk groups for FASD and linked FASD to metabolic, immunologic, and cardiovascular disorders in adults.

Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Children

Adults have a fully functioning liver that digests the alcohol consumed. When the fetus is still developing, it doesn’t have the organs or systems to digest the alcohol that appears in the bloodstream. Hence it disrupts the development of the fetus, causing various issues after birth. Though the severity of FAS varies in different individuals, it usually depends on the amount of alcohol and the phase of development during which alcohol is consumed by the mother. It has not yet been established a safe amount of alcohol consumption or a safe time for it, but alcohol consumption during the first trimester is said to be more severe as the brain is in its formation period. FAS presents itself in children in various forms including a mix of physical defects, intellectual difficulties or cognitive disabilities, and social difficulties that hamper day-to-day activities.

Also Read: Excessive Stress During Pregnancy Can Cause Miscarriage

Physical Defects

Physical abnormalities may include:

  • Unique facial characteristics such as tiny eyes, an extremely narrow upper lip, a short nose that points upwards, and smooth skin between the nose and upper lip.
  • Irregularities in limbs, joints, and fingers.
  • Delayed physical development during and after pregnancy.
  • Challenges with vision and hearing.
  • reduced head size and brain development
  • Heart irregularities as well as issues with kidneys and bones.

Cognitive Disabilities

Issues with cognition and intellectual difficulties may include:

  • Lack of coordination or stability
  • Intellectual challenges, learning disabilities, delayed progress.
  • Weak memory
  • Struggles with focus and information processing.
  • Challenges in reasoning and solving problems.
  • Inability to recognize the outcomes of decisions.
  • Limited judgment capabilities
  • Restlessness or excessive activity
  • Frequent mood swings.

Social and Behavioral Issues

Challenges with functioning, coping, and social interactions may encompass:

  • Struggles in academic settings.
  • Issues with interpersonal relationships
  • Limited social abilities
  • Difficulty adjusting to changes or transitioning between tasks.
  • Challenges with behavior regulation and impulsivity
  • Limited understanding of time
  • Troubles maintaining focus.
  • Struggles with planning or pursuing objectives.

Treatment of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

As mentioned earlier, fetal alcohol syndrome cannot be cured. It is a lifelong disorder which impairs the functioning of the child. But it can be prevented, by simply not consuming alcohol during pregnancy or even when trying for pregnancy. If you think you have a problem with alcohol or are addicted to it. Alcohol and substance misuse can be treated with drugs and addiction therapy.

Hence, before trying for a baby, get yourself alcohol-free to bring a healthy child into the world. But many a time women don’t know if they are pregnant or get into unplanned pregnancies. Hence, the child is at high risk for fetal alcohol syndrome, so how do we manage that?

Also Read: The Side Effects of IVF Technology on Women’s Mental Health

Also, it is difficult to diagnose FAS as there are no lab tests for it. Therefore, once the child is diagnosed with FAS, physicians work on the symptoms that they present. Some medications to treat the signs and symptoms of FAS include anti-depressants for addressing mood fluctuations, sleep disturbances, aggression, and school-related challenges. Anti-anxiety drugs are prescribed to alleviate anxiety symptoms, stimulants are used to manage behavioral issues like hyperactivity, concentration difficulties, and impulse control problems. Also, neuroleptics are used to treat behavioral problems, aggression, and anxiety.

It is also important to closely monitor if the medications require adjustments and complementary therapies like massage, acupuncture, physical activity, and yoga. Behavioral therapies for children along with medications and therapies for parents to handle their child are also very important to manage and help the child for effective daily functioning.

Ensuring A Healthy Pregnancy

We have seen the dangerous effects of prenatal alcohol consumption or fetal alcohol syndrome. Hence, if a woman plans on being pregnant or is pregnant should totally avoid the consumption of alcohol to develop a healthy fetus and bring a healthy baby into the world. She should just abstain from alcohol if she engages in unprotected sex and is sexually active. Bringing a child into the world is a great responsibility and a power invested in women. Hence, they should choose to conceive when they are ready for it physically and mentally. And when in unavoidable circumstances where the baby is diagnosed with FAS, both parents should take on the responsibility of helping the child to live a life full of potential.

  • https://www.webmd.com/baby/fetal-alcohol-syndrome
  • https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorders
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fetal-alcohol-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20352901
  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15677-fetal-alcohol-syndrome

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