Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a group of abnormalities that occur in babies born to mothers who consume alcohol during pregnancy. It is the most common known non-genetic (in other words, non-inherited) cause of mental retardation in the United States. It is estimated that as many as three babies in 1,000 will have FAS. However, the rate may be three times higher in some groups of people.

Fetal alcohol syndrome includes a characteristic group of physical defects, including small head and brain and facial abnormalities, as well as defects in other organs.

How Boston Children's approaches FAS

The Outpatient Psychiatry Service at Boston Children's Hospital works with children and adolescents to determine if psychoactive medication would be an effective tool in their psychiatric treatment. We see thousands of patients every year. Our team sees children with a wide range of psychiatric conditions, including mood and anxiety disorders, problems with impulse control and developmental disorders and psychosis, which are sometimes brought on by FAS.

Meanwhile, our team is at the forefront of FAS research. A study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans suggests that prenatal exposure to cocaine, alcohol, marijuana or tobacco (alone or in combination) may have effects on a baby's brain structure that persists into the child's early adolescence. The findings are of public health significance, since it's estimated that more than 1 million babies born annually in the United States have been exposed to at least one of these things in utero.