What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)?


fetal alcohol syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a condition caused by exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. Babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome may have varying symptoms, but the effects of the condition last forever. There are no treatments or cures for fetal alcohol syndrome, but early diagnosis and support can help people live with the condition as fully as possible.

Learn more about the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome. If you or someone you love are pregnant and need help to stop drinking, reach out to the caring specialists at Moving Mountains Recovery today.

The Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Some children with FAS have debilitating symptoms, while others may face only mild impairments and symptoms. Generally, the symptoms of FAS are divided into three categories: physical, intellectual, and functional.

Physical symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome

Physical signs of FAS include:

  • Recognizable facial features such as small eyes, thin upper lip, short and upturned nose, and lack of indentations between the nose and upper lip
  • Limb, finger, and joint deformities
  • Delayed growth in utero and after birth
  • Problems with vision and hearing
  • Small head circumference
  • Smaller than average brain
  • Kidney and bone problems
  • Heart defects

Brain and nervous system symptoms

Issues related to the brain and central nervous system include:

  • Difficulty with balance
  • Poor coordination
  • Learning disabilities
  • Delayed development
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty paying attention and processing information
  • Problems with reasoning
  • Poor problem-solving abilities
  • Unable to connect actions and consequences
  • Lack of judgment
  • Hyperactivity
  • Mood swings

Social and behavioral symptoms

People with FAS often struggle with social and behavioral issues, including:

  • Poor school performance
  • Difficulty getting along with peers
  • Lack of social skills
  • Difficulty with changes in routines and transitions
  • Short attention span
  • Problems with working toward goals
  • Poor time management skills

What Causes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)?

Fetal alcohol syndrome can occur when a pregnant person drinks any amount of alcohol. It is impossible for FAS to develop without alcohol use.

Alcohol is dangerous during pregnancy because it passes through a pregnant person’s bloodstream and reaches the fetus through the umbilical cord. An unborn baby is unable to metabolize alcohol the way adults do. The result of this is that alcohol stays in the baby’s body for an extended period.

Alcohol abuse interferes with normal fetal development. It has an especially significant effect on a developing fetus’s brain and central nervous system.

Alcohol kills cells in the fetus and can lead to physical abnormalities. It can also prevent cells from developing normally and keep them from moving into the correct places to form the brain.

Alcohol also constricts blood vessels and can prevent vital nutrients and oxygen from reaching the fetus via the placenta. The toxic byproducts created when alcohol is metabolized can accumulate in the fetus’s brain cells and cause significant damage.

When Does Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Occur?

Alcohol can cause damage to a developing fetus at any point in pregnancy. At the beginning of a pregnancy, fetal development is at its most critical stage as the body begins to form. But brain and nervous system development occur throughout the duration of a pregnancy.

There is no way to identify when each essential stage of fetal development occurs. Therefore, there is no point in pregnancy when it is safe to drink alcohol.

Many medical experts recommend that people avoid drinking alcohol when they are trying to become pregnant or if they believe they may be pregnant. It can take several weeks for someone to realize that they are pregnant, and those early weeks are critical to the lifelong health of the unborn baby. Drinking alcohol–even a tiny amount–could lead to fetal alcohol syndrome.

How Much Alcohol Can Cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. Any amount of alcohol could cause fetal alcohol syndrome. Drinking beer, wine, spirits, cider, malt liquor, or any other alcohol-containing beverages during pregnancy is unsafe and should be avoided at all stages of pregnancy.

If you are pregnant and consume alcohol, you must take the steps necessary to stop. Drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to severe, lifelong damage to your unborn baby.

Treatment for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

There is no cure for FAS. The symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome will last for your child’s entire life. But early diagnosis and treatment of symptoms can reduce the severity and lead to better outcomes for your child.

Treatment for FAS includes:

  • Medications to manage attention deficit and behavioral issues
  • Learning coping skills to manage behaviors
  • Educational support for learning problems
  • Improving parenting skills to help your child cope

Children with FAS have better outcomes when they live in a safe, stable home with engaged parents and a range of supportive services.

Find Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Now

If you or someone you love require alcoholism treatment or you want more information about getting help for alcoholism during pregnancy, reach out to the Moving Mountains Recovery specialists today.


  1. American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP): Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2017/1015/p515.html
  2. National Library of Medicine: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: an overview, Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472723/
  3. Wiley Online Library, Obstetrics & Gynecology: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: Genetic and epigenetic mechanisms, Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pd.5731
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