Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Overview

Is it dangerous to drink alcohol during pregnancy?

Yes. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be dangerous to you and your baby, and it is the leading cause of birth defects. Babies born to mothers who drink during pregnancy may have health problems. Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of these problems.

How common is fetal alcohol syndrome?

In the United States, about 2 babies out of every 1,000 babies have fetal alcohol syndrome. It is the leading cause of mental retardation in the United States.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome?

Babies who have fetal alcohol syndrome are usually small and underweight. They often have small eyes and a small head. They often have birth defects such as delayed development, heart defects and vision or hearing problems. As they grow older, they may have behavior problems. The most serious problem is mental retardation.

Causes

Will it hurt my baby even if I drink a little alcohol?

Even small amounts of alcohol can be harmful to an unborn baby. Because no amount of alcohol can be considered safe, pregnant women should avoid all alcohol during the entire pregnancy. (Drinks with alcohol in them include beer, wine, hard liquor and wine coolers.)

“Binge drinking” (having 3 or more drinks at a time) is particularly dangerous for your baby, because it makes the level of alcohol in your blood very high very quickly. So, even if you don’t drink every day, you may put your baby at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome if you binge drink.

What if I can’t stop drinking?

Be honest with your doctor. Tell him or her how much you are drinking. Your doctor may be able to help you stop drinking before it hurts your baby.

Prevention

How can I prevent fetal alcohol syndrome?

The best thing you can do is stop drinking when you are thinking about getting pregnant. If you get pregnant, quit drinking alcohol and drink other beverages instead, such as water, fruit juices or milk.

Treatment

Is there a cure for fetal alcohol syndrome?

No, there is no cure. Children who have fetal alcohol syndrome can be helped, though. The treatment involves providing them with good medical and dental care, including eyeglasses or hearing aids if needed, and placing them in special school programs to treat behavior or development issues.

Questions

If your baby was born with fetal alcohol syndrome:

  • What health problems does my baby have?
  • Does my baby need treatment?
  • How should I care for my baby at home?
  • What health or behavior problems should I look for as my baby gets older?

If you are drinking during pregnancy:

  • Am I putting my baby at risk for health problems?
  • How much alcohol is too much? Can I have even one drink?
  • I have a drinking problem. How do I stop?

Remember these things

  • No amount of alcohol is safe in pregnancy.
  • If you usually drink, quit if you are trying to get pregnant or if you think you’re pregnant.
  • If you can’t quit drinking by yourself, get help quickly.