Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a pattern of mental and physical defects, which develops in some unborn babies when the mother drinks too much alcohol during pregnancy. A baby born with FAS may be seriously handicapped and require a lifetime of special care. FAS is the leading known preventable cause of mental retardation and birth defects. It is 100% preventable if a woman completely abstains from alcohol during her pregnancy.
Yet, many pregnant women sadly do consume alcohol. It is estimated that one in every 750 infants is born with full-blown FAS, each year in the United States. Alcohol in a pregnant woman's bloodstream circulates to the fetus by crossing the placenta. There, the alcohol interferes with the ability of the fetus to receive sufficient oxygen and nourishment for normal cell development in the brain and other body organs. Alcohol is a teratogen, a substance known to be toxic to human development. Depending on the amount, timing and pattern of use, if alcohol reaches the growing baby's blood supply, it can interfere with healthy development.
Defects include prenatal and postnatal growth deficiency, facial and skeletal malformations, central nervous system dysfunction and varying degrees of major organ malfunctions.
Early Intervention is a critical element in determining the prognosis for a child with FAS. The earlier in the child's life that medical, clinical and educational interventions can be provided, the better the outcome. Stable, structured, nurturing environments are necessary to support the child's growth and development. Special needs pre-school programs that are center-based and enroll both the parent and child can provide the most enriched experience. During the early years of a child's development, the focus of treatment should be on establishing healthy parent/child relationships, motor and language development and sensory processing development.
Psychotropic medication may be necessary and should be considered a critical component of the treatment plan. Some children affected with FAS present with a significant degree of impulsivity, hyperactivity, oppositional behavior and sleep disorders. Medication can often assist with these symptoms. The age the child can start medication and the type of medication necessary will depend upon the individual child's history and presentation. However, let the child's pediatrician, a child psychiatrist, or neurologist assess medication needs.
Remember that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. Unfortunately, women sometimes wait until a pregnancy is confirmed before they stop drinking. By then, the embryo/fetus has gone through several weeks of critical development, a period during which exposure to alcohol can be very damaging. Consuming alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, stillbirth and death in early infancy. Heavy drinkers are two to four times more likely to have a miscarriage between the fourth and sixth month of pregnancy than are nondrinkers. Heavy drinkers are also two to three times more likely to lose their babies during the prenatal period, from the 28th week of pregnancy through the first week after birth.
Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center, http://www.startingadaycarecenter.com.