Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Symptoms & Causes

Many drugs can pass from a mother's blood stream through the placenta to the fetus. Alcohol is no exception. Alcohol is broken down more slowly in the immature body of the fetus than in an adult's body. This can cause the alcohol levels to remain high and stay in your baby's body longer.

The full picture of FAS usually occurs in babies born to alcoholic mothers, or those who drink more than four to five drinks each day. However, no amount of alcohol is safe. Even light or moderate drinking can affect the developing fetus.

Why is fetal alcohol syndrome a concern?

Alcohol use in pregnancy has significant effects on the fetus and your baby.

  • Dependence and addiction to alcohol in the mother also cause the fetus to become addicted. At birth, your baby's dependence on alcohol continues. But since the alcohol is no longer available, your baby's central nervous system becomes overstimulated causing the symptoms of withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal may begin within a few hours after a baby's birth and symptoms may last up to 18 months.
  • Babies with FAS often have specific deformities of the head and face, heart defects and mental retardation.

What are the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome?

Symptoms may include:

  • small head, small jaw, and small, flat cheeks
  • excessive hair
  • undergrown nails
  • incomplete or lack of development of brain structures
  • heart murmurs, heart defects, abnormalities of large vessels
  • incomplete development of genitalia
  • growth, motor, and mental retardation
  • irritability in infancy and hyperactivity in childhood
  • poor coordination