Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the most severe of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and affects the baby’s development in the womb and has life-long consequences for the baby once it is born. Current NHS guidelines state that there is no proven safe amount of alcohol a pregnant woman can drink during pregnancy.
PLEASE NOTE: Dr Penman is not a specialist in addictions, and this blog post is for information only and not to be used as a diagnostic tool. If you are concerned about your baby possibly having FAS and/or about your drinking and the effect it may have on you and your baby, please contact your GP who will be able to refer you to the right specialist.
What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a group of mental and physical symptoms that can occur in children whose mother drank alcohol whilst she was pregnant. It is the most severe of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of FAS?
A low IQ, as well as learning and behavioural difficulties, have been linked to FAS.
The physical symptoms of FAS can include:
- small head size
- low body weight
- short physical stature
- visual and/or auditory impairment
- smooth philtrum (middle area of upper lip)
- small eye openings
Unlike the diagnostic criteria for other alcohol-related birth defects, a heart murmur and joint abnormalities are not included in the diagnostic criteria for FAS.
How Is FAS Diagnosed?
FAS diagnosis can be complicated in that many of the associated signs and symptoms may not show up for a number of years. A combination of mental and physical symptoms (see above) are taken into account when making a diagnosis.
To help inform a diagnosis, it is important to be honest with your doctor if you drank during pregnancy.
What Is The Treatment For FAS?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for FAS, but there is help available for the management of symptoms.
For example, special education and/or speech therapists may be helpful in managing your child’s symptoms and helping them to achieve their full potential at school and at home.
How Can I Avoid FAS?
FAS is preventable, unlike all other fetal abnormalities, for example Down Syndrome and cleft palate. Not drinking alcohol is the only way to avoid FAS.
As of September 2017, the NHS had not changed its guidelines on drinking during pregnancy, and still maintains that there is no proven safe amount of alcohol that pregnant women can drink during pregnancy to avoid associated risks to the baby.
The information provided by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has different advice, however, and suggests:
It is recommended that women do not drink alcohol during the first three months of pregnancy. The guidance states that drinking alcohol may affect the unborn baby as some will pass through the placenta and drinking around conception and during the first three months may increase the chance of miscarriage. After this time women are advised to not drink more than one to two units, more than once or twice a week. Read more…
Other Risks Of Drinking During Pregnancy
Drinking during pregnancy has the potential not only to cause FAS, or other fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, but also:
- increased risk of miscarriage
- small size for gestational age
- low birth weight
- premature birth
Is There Any Help Available For Me?
If you believe you have a problem with alcohol, it is important to be open and honest with your doctor. They can advise you on the best course of action for you. There are also a number of UK-based charities on hand to give support and guidance, including Addaction.
There is also practical support and guidance for raising a child with FAS from a number of charities, including the UK branch of the National Organisation For Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS).