fetal alcohol syndrome

Alcohol and Pregnancy, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Whatever the source of alcohol, whether it is found in beer, spirits or wine, it all has the same effect on your baby and can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or the lesser condition – Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE). The take home message is – Pregnancy and Alcohol don’t mix.


Central Nervous System Depressant


Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It does not just affect the liver but every other organ. If you drink regularly and heavily the alcohol can have a serious detrimental effect on your muscles, heart, brain, digestive system and overall health and wellbeing. Drinking while you are pregnant can adversely affect the development of your baby.


You Drink – Your Baby Drinks


Drinking alcohol while pregnant is like offering your baby a drink. Alcohol passes into your baby’s blood stream via the placenta. Even after birth, if you continue to drink and are breastfeeding, some alcohol will be present in your milk.


It is now universally accepted by nearly all national medical associations that no alcohol at all should be consumed during pregnancy. All forms of drinking can affect your baby. Binge drinking will have a more sudden and extreme affected in the short term but even drinking regularly in smaller amounts every day will do your baby no good at all.


The Effect of Alcohol on the Baby’s Body


Your developing baby’s liver is a fraction of the size of your own and he has a much reduced capacity for breaking down alcohol and eliminating toxins from his system. Alcohol makes it more difficult for him to make use of oxygen and interferes with cell development. This means that the baby has a very low tolerance and can develop problems if he receives more alcohol than his liver can process.


The effects of alcohol are much more severe during early pregnancy when the baby’s liver is still extremely small. If the mother is drinking regularly, this will affect the baby’s physical development and mental abilities. It has a negative effect on brain development not only during gestation but after birth. This affect on your child’s mental health could affect him in later age when he goes to school and even as an adult. When a child is born and presents symptoms associated with alcohol abuse it is said to have foetal alcohol syndrome.


Stop Drinking


The best choice to take on discovering that you’re pregnant is to stop drinking completely. If you are a social drinker and feel that you wish to continue then cut down as far as you possibly can. Depending on your previous history, you may find out for the first time that you have a drinking problem. Why? Because this could be the first time in your life when you have attempted to cut down your intake of alcohol. If you find it almost impossible to stop you could be addicted. If this is the case then you should seek guidance and counselling from a drug or alcohol dependency service.


Fetal Alcohol Syndrome


fetal alcohol syndrome

Drinking alcohol excessively and regularly during pregnancy will adversely affect the cell development in your unborn baby. It is the quantity of alcohol consumed over the entire pregnancy which determines the severity of the effect on your baby. Babies that are not described as having foetal alcohol syndrome but still seem to be affected by the mother’s alcohol intake, are referred to as having foetal alcohol effect.


The statistics are quite alarming. It is thought that one in 750 babies born annually in the United Kingdom suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome. It has also been pinpointed as a major factor in learning difficulties as the child ages, so it’s effects last well beyond infancy.


Babies born with FAS tend to suffer from the following:


  • Delayed growth and development
  • Mental impairment
  • Central nervous system dysfunction
  • Facial abnormalities
  • Small eye openings
  • Epicanthal folds
  • Flat midface
  • Smooth philtrum
  • Underdeveloped jaw
  • Psychological problems in later age


One of the physical effects is microcephaly which is a small head circumference, usually accompanied by a small chin, thin lips, low set droopy ears, small eye openings, and a small upward pointing nose. Foetal alcohol affect is marked by most of the preceding symptoms but with less severity. Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to undo the effects of either FAS or FAE. Some babies with foetal alcohol affect can also have neonatral abstinence syndrome, the symptoms of which can last for many weeks following birth.