Alcohol can harm your baby at any stage during a pregnancy. That includes the earliest stages, before you even know you are pregnant. Drinking during pregnancy can cause a group of conditions called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Children who are born with FASD can have a mix of problems, such as medical, behavioral, educational, and social problems. The kinds of problems they have depend on which type of FASD they have. The problems could include
- Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip
- Small head size
- Shorter-than-average height
- Low body weight
- Poor coordination
- Hyperactive behavior
- Difficulty with attention and memory
- Learning disabilities and difficulty in school
- Speech and language delays
- Intellectual disability or low IQ
- Poor reasoning and judgment skills
- Sleep and sucking problems as a baby
- Vision or hearing problems
- Problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most serious type of FASD. People with fetal alcohol syndrome have facial abnormalities, including wide-set and narrow eyes, growth problems and nervous system abnormalities.
Diagnosing FASD can be hard because there is no specific test for it. The health care provider will make a diagnosis by looking at the child's signs and symptoms and asking whether the mother drank alcohol during pregnancy.
FASDs last a lifetime. There is no cure for FASDs, but treatments can help. These include medicines to help with some symptoms, medical care for health problems, behavior and education therapy, and parent training. A good treatment plan is specific to the child's problems. It should include close monitoring, follow-ups, and changes when needed.
Certain "protective factors" can help reduce the effects of FASDs and help people who have them reach their full potential. They include
- Diagnosis before 6 years of age
- Loving, nurturing, and stable home environment during the school years
- Absence of violence around them
- Involvement in special education and social services
There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. To prevent FASDs, you should not drink alcohol while you are pregnant, or when you might get pregnant.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Basics About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Fetal Alcohol Exposure (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Treatments and Therapies
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs): Treatments (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Strategies for Daily Living (National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome)
Health Check Tools
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs): Alcohol Use Quiz (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Statistics and Research
- 18 Percent of Pregnant Women Drink Alcohol during Early Pregnancy (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs): Data and Statistics (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Embryogenesis Under Reduced Retinoic Acid Signaling Conditions.
- Article: Looking back, moving forward: 50 years of South African Medical Research...
- Article: Neurodevelopmental Outcomes Associated with Prefrontal Cortical Deoxygenation in Children with Fetal...
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders -- see more articles
Find an Expert
- Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Also in Spanish
- March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation Also in Spanish
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- What Is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) and Why Is It Important That I Know about It? (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)