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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

When a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, she can cause serious injury to her unborn baby. Although it is impossible to determine how much alcohol consumption is necessary to cause injury to a fetus, physicians and health experts recommend that women who are pregnant abstain from drinking alcohol completely during pregnancy.

Alcohol-related birth defects generally fall into two categories. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a group of birth defects caused by a woman drinking alcohol while she is pregnant. Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) includes many but not all of the problems of FAS. Common effects of FAS and FAE are:

  • Brain Damage. The brain of a developing fetus can be severely damaged by alcohol. This damage leads to many problems, including:
  • Learning and behavior problems. Children with FAS/FAE may learn more slowly than their peers. They may have trouble remembering how to do simple things. They may even be mentally retarded. FAS/FAE can cause hyperactivity and problems such as lying and stealing.
  • Low-birth weight. Babies with FAS often weight less than 5.5 pounds at birth. Babies with low birthweight are more likely to get sick and are more likely to die in their first year of life.
  • Physical problems. People with FAS may have heart defects. They can have trouble with seeing and hearing.
  • Facial effects. Drinking during pregnancy may cause changes in the way some children look. They may have a small head, small eyes, a thin
    upper lip, and/or a flat appearing face.

Common Myths about Drinking During Pregnancy
There are many things people don't know about FAS and FAE. Here are some of the myths and facts.

Myth: It is okay for a women to have an occasional drink when she is pregnant.

Fact: There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. A pregnant woman should avoid drinking any beer, wine, wine coolers or hard liquor.

Myth: If a woman drinks early is her pregnancy, there is no reason to stop drinking. The damage is done.

Fact: Alcohol can cause damage during each stage of pregnancy. As soon as a pregnant women stops drinking she prevents further risk of damage to her baby. It is never too late.

Myth: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects are not very common.

Fact: Over 55,000 babies born every year in the United States have FAS or FAE. FAS is the leading cause of mental retardation in the United States.

Myth: FAS/FAE can be outgrown.

Fact: Children with FAS/FAE will never outgrow their birth defects. FAS/FAE causes lifelong learning and behavior problems.

Myth: Nothing can be done if someone has FAS/FAE.

Fact: There are many ways to help someone who has FAS/FAE. Call the Kent County Health Department for available resources at 632-7122.

Myth: Health care providers and teachers can easily tell if a child has FAS/FAE.

Fact: FAS/FAE are know as "hidden" birth defects. There are many different symptoms, and these symptoms are often confused with other problems. Women need to tell health care providers and teachers if they drank during pregnancy.

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