Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a problem caused by the exposure of alcohol to the unborn baby (fetus) during pregnancy. It is a collection of symptoms and medical problems. FAS is a life-long problem that has a variety of mental and physical issues. Alcohol is damaging at any time during pregnancy. The quantity and when the alcohol was consumed during the pregnacy has an effect on the fetus.


FAS is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the alcohol enters their bloodstream and reaches the fetus by crossing the placenta. This causes damage to the developing brain and other organs of the fetus.


Signs and symptoms of FAS can vary. Symptoms depend on how much alcohol was consumed and when the alcohol was consumed during the pregnancy. Signs of FAS may include:

  • Slower achievement of normal, expected skills (developmental delay). This includes:

  • Delayed speech.

  • Thinking (cognitive) skills.

  • Social skills.

  • Mental retardation.

  • Abnormal facial features.

  • Slow physical growth.

  • Small size at birth.

  • Decreased muscle tone.

  • Small head size.

  • Sleep and sucking problems in infancy.

  • Unusual fussiness in infancy.

  • Heart defects.

  • Joint problems.

  • Problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision, and hearing. These problems often lead to difficulties in school and problems getting along with others.

  • Poor coordination and motor skills.

  • Hyperactive behavior and anxiety.

  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills.


Diagnosis of FAS is made based on the physical exam of the child. Other tests may be done to look for problems with the heart and other organs.


There is no specific treatment or cure for FAS. There may be treatment that can help specific symptoms. These include:

  • Medicines for attention span or behavioral problems.

  • Vision correction and hearing devices.

  • Speech therapy.

  • Surgery for heart defects (if any).

  • Counseling to handle behavioral problems may be needed.


  • Place your child in appropriate educational classes. Children with FAS who receive special education are more likely to achieve their developmental and educational potential.

  • If your child has behavioral problems, some of the following may be helpful:

  • Seek a support group of other parents with children with FAS or behavioral problems.

  • Keep consistent daily routines that your child can rely upon.

  • Keep clear rules and limits. Be consistent in applying consequences for not following the rules.

  • Be brief in directions and instructions.

  • Reinforce positive behavior with praise and rewards.

  • Prevent other children from taking advantage of your child.

  • Create a structured home life. Family members should be caring and should try to help prevent problems in the future. These potential problems include:

  • Chemical dependency.

  • Dropping out of school.

  • Encounters with the juvenile justice system.


  • Do not drink any amount of alcohol while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

  • If you are sexually active and not using an effective form of birth control, do not drink alcohol. You could be pregnant and not know it for several weeks.


  • You are having problems coping with your child's behavior.

  • Your child has new hearing or vision problems.


Your child has a convulsion (seizure).


  • If you are unable to stop drinking contact your caregiver, local Alcoholics Anonymous, or local alcohol treatment center.

  • In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA ). This organization has a Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator. This locator helps people find drug and alcohol treatment programs in their area.