Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Other Reasons to Begin Recovery

If you are pregnant and have an alcohol use disorder, your infant might have irreversible complications due to fetal alcohol syndrome.

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a condition resulting from abusing alcohol during pregnancy. The condition causes the unborn baby to have growth problems and brain damage. While FAS is different from one child to another, its defects are irreversible.
If you suspect fetal alcohol syndrome in your child, talk to a doctor quickly. Early diagnosis helps reduce problems like behavioral issues and learning difficulties.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome vs. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in newborns result from exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. While fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition, FASD is a broader diagnosis that includes all patients with FAS. It also encompasses other people affected by prenatal alcohol exposure who didn’t meet all the requirements of FAS. 1

How Common is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no exact figure shows how common fetal alcohol syndrome is. However, FAS diagnosis relating to the exposure to alcohol in babies during pregnancies shows that 1% to 5% of school-aged children have FASD in the U.S. and some countries in western Europe. Experts base these records on the National Institute of Health and their funded community studies using physical examinations.2

Other Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Some of the more common fetal alcohol spectrum disorders include:
  • Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND): This causes problems and intellectual disabilities with learning and behavior in children. Your child may perform poorly in school, have difficulties with memory, judgment, and attention, and have poor impulse control.
  • Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD): This causes children to experience problems with the bones, heart, kidneys, or to develop hearing problems. Children may also have a mix of all these problems in some instances.
  • Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE): There are three areas to pay attention to if a child is diagnosed with ND-PAE. Firstly, they develop thinking and memory issues, like having trouble with planning or forgetting things they already learned. Secondly, they have behavior problems like tantrums, difficulty shifting attention from different tasks, or mood issues like irritability. Lastly, the child may have trouble with daily living, such as dressing for the weather, playing with other kids, or bathing.
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome: This is when a child does not meet the complete requirements of FAS but still experiences symptoms. Here, the child only develops some conditions of FAS like facial abnormalities or growth problems.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Causes and Risk Factors

A baby’s heart, blood vessels, and brain begin to develop during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy puts the baby at a greater risk of certain complications. However, heavy drinking exposes the unborn baby to fetal alcohol syndrome.

You can put your baby at risk of FAS even before realizing that you are pregnant. Don’t drink alcohol if you think you are pregnant, you actually are pregnant, or you’re trying to get pregnant.

Drinking Whilst Pregnant Consequences

If you do drink while pregnant:
  • Alcohol enters the bloodstream and crosses the baby’s placenta
  • The unborn baby metabolizes alcohol slower than the mother, hence developing a higher concentration of alcohol in their blood and leading to unwanted issues
  • Alcohol interferes with optimal nutrition and oxygen delivery to the unborn baby
  • Alcohol harms tissues development and organs, potentially causing permanent brain damage to the unborn baby.
All of these can easily lead an unborn baby to develop fetal alcohol syndrome before even being born.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Symptoms and Side Effects

While some children experience mild symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome, others have more significant side effects. Fetal alcohol syndrome has signs and symptoms involving cognitive or intellectual disabilities, physical defects, and problems coping and functioning with daily life.

Mild Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Mild fetal alcohol syndrome symptoms include:
  • Difficulty in school
  • Poor social skills
  • Trouble adapting to change
  • Difficulty switching from one task to another
  • Problems with impulse control and behaviors
  • Poor concept of time
  • Problems staying on a task
  • Difficulty working or planning towards a goal

Severe Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Severe fetal alcohol syndrome symptoms can include:
  • Poor balance or coordination
  • Intellectual disability, delayed development, and learning disorders
  • Poor memory
  • Trouble with processing information and paying attention
  • Difficulty with problem-solving and reasoning
  • Difficulty in identifying the consequences of choices
  • Poor judgment skills
  • Jitteriness or hyperactivity
  • Rapid mood changes
  • Behavioral and social issues
  • Trouble getting along with other people

Physical Side Effect of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Physical side effects of FAS can include:
  • Distinctive facial features like small eyes, short upturned nose, a skinny upper lip, or smooth skin surface between the upper lip and nose
  • Deformities of limbs, joints, and fingers
  • Slow physical growth
  • Vision and hearing difficulties
  • Small head circumference and brain size
  • Heart defects
  • Problems with bones and kidneys
  • Congenital disability
  • Seizures and other neurologic problems
  • Delayed development

Post-Birth Complications of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Some fetal alcohol syndrome complications that occur some time after birth may include:
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis
  • Aggression and inappropriate social conduct
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Mental health disorders like depression, eating disorders, or anxiety
  • Problems in completing or staying in school
  • Difficulties with employment and independent living
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors
  • Early death by accident, suicide, or homicide

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnosis and Treatment

There is no specific test that proves a child has fetal alcohol syndrome. However, to diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome, doctors usually look for unusual facial features, below average height and weight, small head size, poor coordination, and problems with attention and hyperactivity.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnosis

Doctors also determine if the mother drank and how much they did drink during pregnancy. When diagnosing FAS, all the following clinical features must be present:
  • Postnatal and prenatal growth issues
  • Facial dysmorphology
  • Central nervous system dysfunction
  • Neurobehavioral disabilities.

Mitigating the Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

While symptoms of FAS are incurable, there are many things parents can do to help manage symptoms. Some symptoms, like ADHD, can be managed better with medication. In other areas, children can thrive better when:
  • They are diagnosed before reaching six years old.
  • They are provided with a loving, stable, and nurturing home environment during school years.
  • They are not exposed to violence.
  • They offer special social services and education help if needed.
Signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome 

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Treatments

There is no specific cure for treating fetal alcohol syndrome. However, early intervention like medications, educational and behavioral therapies, and parental training can prevent secondary disabilities. Some drugs can help with anxiety, the inability to focus, or hyperactivity. A doctor should closely monitor your child with FAS to ensure if the medication needs changes.

Medications to Help With FAS

These medications include:
  • Antidepressants, which can help treat problems with sleep irritability, aggression, or difficulties in school.
  • Anti-anxiety medication.
  • Stimulants, which can treat behavioral issues like poor impulse control, hyperactivity, or trouble concentrating.
  • Neuroleptics treat behavioral problems, aggression, and anxiety as well.
Complementary therapies include massage, acupuncture, exercise, and yoga.

Parental Training Practices

Parental training involves treatments that help them with their alcohol addiction if they are still struggling. This training prevents FAS in future children and offers parental skills to help the child with fetal alcohol syndrome. Behavioral and educational interventions may involve:

  • A special education teacher, occupational and physical therapists, a speech therapist, and a psychologist.
  • Early interventions to help with talking, walking, and social skills.
  • Services to help with behavioral and learning issues.
  • Life skills.
  • Counseling that benefits the whole family in coping with a child’s behavioral issues.3

Treatment for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Alcoholism in Los Angeles

Alcoholism treatment for the mother can involve:
  • Detoxification: Detox is the initial stage of alcohol addiction and happens in a highly monitored and regulated environment. During this time, the patient gets toxic substances safely removed from the body. Because the body has become used to the drug, the patient experiences withdrawal symptoms. Though withdrawal symptoms may happen for one to two weeks, they may last longer depending on the severity of the abuse disorder.4
  • Inpatient (Residential) Care: This is where a doctor supervises and monitors the patient in an inpatient facility. Residential care is often recommended for people with severe alcohol use disorder. Checking in at a long-term or short-term inpatient care depends on the severity of the substance abuse disorder. Inpatient care involves various psychotherapies and medicated-assisted treatment to help the patient overcome addiction.
  • Outpatient Care: Outpatient programs do not require check-in at a center for the entire length of the program. Patients can go home every day after therapy and only check-in when they have sessions. Some programs offer daily sessions, while others may meet up to three times weekly. Outpatient care provides structured and time-intensive programs like Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) or Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs). Both offer a full range of ongoing support and assessment.

Contact Concise Recovery

Contact Concise Recovery today for a fetal alcohol syndrome diagnosis or inquiries. While your unborn child might develop complications, an early diagnosis is helpful to prevent the severity of its effects. Consult with your medical provider earlier when pregnant and battling alcohol use disorder.