FAS – The Lifelong Effects of Alcohol on Babies
There is a group of disabling disorders which affects babies throughout their lives that is 100% preventable: the collective disorders of fetal alcohol syndrome. Drinking alcohol while pregnant can put your baby at serious risk of disability. Throughout pregnancy – yes, even before you discover you are pregnant – alcohol can be detrimental to your developing baby.
What is FASD?
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) result when a mother drinks alcohol while pregnant. Alcohol in any amount during pregnancy and even while breastfeeding is unsafe for babies. The alcohol in mother’s blood passes through the umbilical cord directly to the growing baby. While not always obvious directly after birth, exposure to alcohol while in the womb can cause any combination of physical birth defects, learning, and behavioral problems as the child grows. A baby can be diagnosed by a pediatrician with a FASD without confirmation from the mother that she drank alcohol during pregnancy. Typical characteristics include:
- Abnormal facial features
- Below-average height and/or weight
- Seizures or neurologic problems such as trouble balancing
- Delays in reaching developmental milestones
- Behavioral problems
- Birth defects
Different types of FASD
While the cause is always the same, there are several different terms used to describe the effects of alcohol on a developing child. A person with FASD could have a mix of any of these symptoms with varying levels of severity.
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): An individual with fetal alcohol syndrome may have intellectual problems (poor memory, attention span, difficulty learning); social challenges (doesn’t get along well with others, poor communication); poor sensory development (hearing and vision); central nervous system, and growth problems.
- Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND): Marked by difficulties in school with behavior and learning, especially with focusing, math, memory, and impulse control.
- Alcohol-related Birth Defects (ARBD): Health complications that potentially involve heart, kidney, bones, or hearing problems.
- Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE): A child diagnosed with ND-PAE will have challenges in thinking and memory, behavior problems, and everyday living. To confirm this diagnosis, the child’s mother must have consumed more than 13 alcoholic drinks per month during pregnancy or more than 2 per sitting.
What happens if I think my child has a FASD?
While there is no cure for FASDs, treatment can help a developing child to minimize the effects of the disorder.
- Consult with your child’s physician. The earlier you intervene on behalf of your child, the more she will benefit from treatment. Sometimes, depending on the child’s need, she might be referred to a specialist, such as a neurologist, speech-language pathologist, or nutritionist.
- Seek community support. Schools often have programs for children with special needs. There are also community groups, both in person and online, that can help you as a parent or caregiver of a child with FASD to gain useful skills and additional understanding.
- Provide a stable home environment. A loving, nurturing home free of violence or harmful relationships can really benefit children with a FASD, who tend to be more sensitive.
- Continue services through adulthood. Since FASDs are permanent, it’s important to utilize resources as your child grows. Classes teaching social or occupational skills may be helpful, as well as one-on-one counseling with a mental health professional.
As with any disability, it’s important to focus on your child’s strengths and give lots of praise for good behavior. Raising a child takes a lot of work, but a child with a developmental disorder can be even more challenging. Learn to recognize when you need help, and don’t be afraid to ask. With early intervention and lots of love, your little one can be well on her way to fulfilling her potential.
What are your experiences with FAS or FASD? Comment below!