How much alcohol is too much during pregnancy?
If you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, it’s essential to be aware of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). This serious condition can occur when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy, and it often leads to lifelong physical, mental and behavioral issues for children.
While most parents generally know to avoid alcohol during pregnancy, you may not be aware of what amount of alcohol actually qualifies as unsafe and the consequences drinking can create for your unborn child. This article will help you learn about FAS and the risks of combining alcohol with pregnancy.
What is fetal alcohol syndrome?
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that result from a mother’s alcohol use during pregnancy.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe type of FASD, characterized by physical, mental, and behavioral problems in children that can last into adulthood.
How common is fetal alcohol syndrome?
Alcohol use during pregnancy and FAS are far more common than many think. In fact, according to a 2021 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 14% of pregnant women reported drinking during their pregnancy, and about 5% admitted to binge drinking.
Based on in-person assessments of children, the CDC currently estimates that FAS affects as many as 9 out of 1,000 school-aged children in the U.S. Unfortunately, the exact prevalence of FAS is difficult to determine due to underreporting, misdiagnosis and lack of awareness.
Additionally, there are a number of famous people with fetal alcohol syndrome that have recently been open about their conditions. However, the misinformation and prejudices against individuals with FAS run rampant online, and some famous people have been mistakenly identified as having FAS. For advocates like Greta Thunberg, fetal alcohol syndrome has been used as an attack against mental capabilities and functions.
What causes fetal alcohol syndrome?
As mentioned, FAS can occur if a pregnant woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, which affects the developing baby’s brain, heart and other organs, resulting in physical and mental issues.
When alcohol is consumed during pregnancy, it enters the mother’s bloodstream and reaches the fetus by crossing the placenta. In addition to the fetus being vulnerable because its body and organs are still developing, a fetus also experiences higher blood alcohol concentrations than its mother because it metabolizes alcohol slower.
The severity of FAS depends on the amount of alcohol and the stage of pregnancy when the alcohol was consumed. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for women to inadvertently expose their babies to alcohol early on in pregnancy before they’re even aware they’re pregnant.
How alcohol affects a fetus
Alcohol can affect a growing baby in a number of ways:
- It destroys cells in the fetus, leading to abnormal physical growth.
- It produces toxic byproducts that concentrate in the fetus’s brain and lead to brain damage.
- It interferes with nerve cell development, which can affect brain function.
It constricts blood vessels, which decreases the amount of oxygen and nutrients delivered to the fetus.
How much alcohol causes fetal alcohol syndrome?
It’s not known exactly how much alcohol causes FAS because it varies based on a number of factors, including:
- The frequency and amount of alcohol a mother drinks before and during pregnancy
- The stage of fetal development when alcohol is consumed
- The genetics of mother and baby
It is known, however, that the more alcohol a pregnant woman drinks, the higher the risk of FAS for her baby. Because of this, the CDC currently recommends that pregnant women don’t drink any alcohol during pregnancy.
What are the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome?
The signs and symptoms of FAS vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include:
- Small head size
- Low body weight
- Short height
- Difficulties sleeping
- Difficulties sucking during feeding
- Coordination struggles
- Poor memory
- Low concentration ability
- Difficulty with problem-solving skills
- Lack of social skills
- Poor judgment
- Difficulty in school
- Weakened impulse control
- Low IQ compared to peers
- Learning disabilities
- Problems with the heart and kidneys
- Speech or language delays
- Issues with motor skills
- Vision and hearing problems
- Skeletal abnormalities
How is fetal alcohol syndrome diagnosed?
FAS can be challenging to diagnose because there is no single test to diagnose this disorder. A diagnosis is usually based on combined physical, mental and behavioral symptoms.
If you suspect your child has FAS, it’s important to discuss your concerns with a doctor because early intervention often improves learning and behavior outcomes.
When will a child start showing signs of fetal alcohol syndrome?
Signs and symptoms of FAS can be seen in a baby both before and after birth. Physical and behavioral signs and symptoms may be seen in an ultrasound during pregnancy, and doctors may be able to detect physical fetal alcohol syndrome symptoms at birth in the most severely affected children.
However, most characteristics and features associated with FAS appear between eight months and eight years of age.
Does fetal alcohol syndrome continue to affect a child in their adult years?
Yes, FAS can have lifelong effects. Adults with fetal alcohol syndrome may have difficulty managing their:
While the full spectrum of adult symptoms of FAS is unknown, individuals with a FAS or FASD diagnosis typically have identifiable mental, physical and behavioral difficulties.
Adults with FAS may also have difficulty concentrating and managing their emotions, which can lead to trouble with law enforcement, substance and alcohol abuse challenges and repeated school dropouts.
Prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome
The best way to prevent FAS is for pregnant women or women who plan to be pregnant not to drink any alcohol. It’s also essential for pregnant women to get early and regular prenatal care from a qualified healthcare professional.
Contact our Houston birth injury attorney
Attorney Laura Brown from Brown Trial Firm has dedicated her career to fighting for children and families whose lives were affected by medical malpractice. While fetal alcohol syndrome doesn’t typically qualify as negligence, medical professionals have a responsibility to do everything possible to keep a mother and her baby safe during pregnancy, labor and delivery.
If they fail to provide a reasonable standard of medical care and this failure causes a birth injury to your child, you have the right to take legal action. You may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, hospital visits, and future care like therapy and medical caretaking. The sooner you act, the better the result can be for your child.
At Brown Trial Firm, attorney Laura Brown will fight for you and your family to ensure that you’re fairly compensated for your losses. If you suspect your child’s birth injury was caused by a preventable medical mistake, contact her today for a free consultation of your case.
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