What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a group of problems in children born to mothers who drank alcohol during their pregnancy. These babies are usually small and underweight. They often have small eyes and a small head. They often have birth defects such as delayed development, heart defects and vision or hearing problems. As they grow older, they may have behavior problems. The most serious problem is mental retardation. 

Is it dangerous to drink alcohol during pregnancy?

Yes. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be dangerous to you and your baby, and it is the leading cause of birth defects. Babies born to mothers who drink during pregnancy may have health problems. Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of these problems.

How common is fetal alcohol syndrome?

In the United States, about 2 babies out of every 1,000 babies have fetal alcohol syndrome. It is the leading cause of mental retardation in this country.

How can I prevent fetal alcohol syndrome?

The best thing you can do is stop drinking when you are thinking about getting pregnant. If you get pregnant, quit drinking alcohol and drink other beverages instead, such as water, fruit juices or milk.


Will it hurt my baby even if I drink a little alcohol?

Even small amounts of alcohol can be harmful to an unborn baby. Because no amount of alcohol can be considered safe, pregnant women should avoid all alcohol during the entire pregnancy. (Drinks with alcohol in them include beer, wine, hard liquor and wine coolers.) 

“Binge drinking” (having 3 or more drinks at a time) is particularly dangerous for your baby, because it makes the level of alcohol in your blood very high very quickly. So, even if you don’t drink every day, you may put your baby at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome if you binge drink.

What if I can’t stop drinking?

Be honest with your doctor. Tell him or her how much you are drinking. Your doctor may be able to help you stop drinking before it hurts your baby. 

Is there a cure for fetal alcohol syndrome?

No, there is no cure. Children who have fetal alcohol syndrome can be helped, though. The treatment involves providing them with good medical and dental care, including eyeglasses or hearing aids if needed, and placing them in special school programs to treat behavior or development issues. 

Remember these things

  • No amount of alcohol is safe in pregnancy.
  • If you usually drink, quit if you are trying to get pregnant or if you think you’re pregnant.
  • If you can’t quit drinking by yourself, get help quickly.

Other Organizations


Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff.

American Academy of Family Physicians

Reviewed/Updated: 08/10
Created: 09/00

Original article: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/women/pregnancy/fetal/068.html

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
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