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What is FASD? 

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term for effects caused by alcohol during pregnancy including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. Babies with FAS may have a variety of difficulties including learning disabilities, behavior problems and physical deformities. FASD can be prevented by choosing NOT to drink alcohol while pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or while sexually active and not on birth control. FASD can affect every child differently.

Why is drinking alcohol during pregnancy a bad thing?

Alcohol causes damage to the nervous system and other organs of a developing fetus. While an adult has a liver that can filter some of the harmful effects of alcohol, the unborn baby’s liver just can’t keep up. Any level of alcohol in a pregnant woman’s blood is shared with her unborn child because they share the same blood.

Nine months of a baby’s development in the mother is critical to future health, any teratogens (environmental toxins) that reach the baby can cause developmental delays, developmental disabilities, birth defects, and other abnormalities. One of the most harmful and dangerous substances that can impact a baby is alcohol.

I’m not planning on having a baby yet. What’s the big deal?

Many women who drink alcohol may also be sexually active. Even if you aren’t “planning” for a baby, accidents do happen, especially if no form of birth control is used. And often times, women don’t know they are pregnant until they have missed one or two periods, which can be several weeks of pregnancy that have gone unnoticed. If you drink alcohol during this time it can cause permanent damage to your baby. The first few weeks of development are usually the most critical since the brain and nervous system are just forming. We encourage women who are pregnant, planning on becoming pregnant, or those who are not using form of birth control to NOT drink alcohol.

Is it okay to drink sparingly, as long as it’s not hard liquor?

There are many misconceptions in the media and poor advice from doctors that say a few glasses of wine or a drink once or twice a week is safe during a pregnancy. This is not true. Any amount of alcohol can impact a baby, in fact a recent study came out that claimed there is no known safe time to drink alcohol during a pregnancy. The real question is: Why take the risk at all? It’s only 9 months to abstain from possibly causing permanent disabilities for your child.

I’ve already drank during my pregnancy. What does this mean for my baby?

The first thing to do is to stop drinking now. The sooner you stop the better outcome you will have for your baby. Talk to your doctor about your concerns and be sure you are receiving regular check-ups and are taking good care of yourself during your pregnancy, including eating nutritious foods and taking vitamins.

It is not always easy to tell if a newborn has FASD, as alcohol can effect unborn babies in different ways. If you begin to notice any developmental delays, abnormal behavior or learning problems you should talk with your doctor or a developmental pediatrician about having your baby evaluated. For personal reference, you can refer to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s developmental milestones campaign called Learn the Signs. Act Early. here.

Is there a cure for FASD?

No. There is no cure for FASD. It is permanent brain damage. Many children with FASD can receive help early-on and many symptoms can be relieved through medication or therapy. It’s important to talk with your child’s doctor if you suspect they may have FASD or if you drank alcohol during your pregnancy.

What can happen to a child with FASD?

Unfortunately, many children with FASD have permanent disabilities through no fault of their own. FASD is brain damage and may cause behavior problems, learning disabilities, or developmental delays. Alcohol destroys parts of a baby’s nervous system, generally leading to a decreased brain size. One of the common side effects of severe FASD is the destruction of the corpus callosum (a part of the brain that attaches both sides of the brain and is responsible for decision-making). This contributes to impulsive behavior, poor decision-making skills, and naive beliefs that are characteristic in many people with FASD. This disorder affects every person differently so there is no way of knowing the severity. Read more about the effects of alcohol on the baby’s brain here.

Many people with FASD have difficulty keeping a job, staying in school, and may end up in the criminal justice system at some point (check out the Barefoot Bandit). Many children with FASD may “look normal”, but FASD is considered an invisible disability because it resembles alternative diagnoses such as ADHD and some mental illnesses.  Most people with FASD end up struggling with normal routines throughout their life.

How can I prevent FASD? 

FASD is 100% preventable by NOT drinking alcohol while you are pregnant, planning on becoming pregnant, or not on a form of birth control. You can also help spread awareness by educating your friends and family about the dangers of drinking and pregnancy.


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