Fetal alcohol syndrome is a collective term used to denote a whole lot of disorders, that may develop in a fetus, as a result of alcohol consumption of the mother, during pregnancy. Exposure of the fetus to alcohol may result in various behavioral, mental, and physical problems in the child. While it cannot be said that alcohol intake during pregnancy will lead to such problems, fetal alcohol syndrome is not uncommon. This can be substantiated with the fact that around 40,000 children in the United States are affected with such problems, every year. In most cases, the damage is found to be irreversible.

Even though there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, in small amounts, it may not be as harmful, as compared to alcohol abuse. Even the stage of pregnancy development matters, because alcohol consumption during the first three months is said to cause more harmful effects, as compared to exposure during the later stages.


As the pregnant woman consumes alcohol, it reaches the fetus through the placenta. The fetus lacks the ability to break down alcohol and so, the alcohol causes damage to its developing cells, particularly, that of the brain and the central nervous system. It is said that alcohol exposure can cause permanent damage to the brain development in the fetus, resulting in various symptoms. As mentioned above, it is a collective term used to denote a wide range of disorders that can be caused in the fetus, which has been exposed to alcohol, while in womb. Even though the symptoms may vary as per the underlying disorders, some of them are common, and can be construed as signs of fetal alcohol syndrome. Characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome may include skeletal deformities, head and facial abnormalities, heart problems, growth deficiencies, etc.
  • The most common symptom is diminished physical growth, both before and after birth. So, such babies may have a low birth weight.
  • There are certain facial abnormalities that are found to be associated with this condition. They include small eye openings, small upturned nose, webbing in the nostril, thin upper lips, flat cheek bones, soft skin between the nose and upper lips without any groove, etc.
  • Even the size of the head and the brain are found smaller than that of normal babies. The reduced size of the head is mainly due to the impaired brain growth and in some cases, it may not be so apparent.
  • A child with fetal alcohol syndrome may have hearing problems too. Even vision difficulties, learning disorders, and sleep problems may be experienced by such kids.
  • They are found to be irritable and sometimes, hyperactive. The child may also have problems with eye-hand coordination, and may also suffer from tremors.
  • Heart defects are also commonly found in babies with this syndrome. Heart murmur may be experienced, due to the presence of a hole between the lower chambers.
  • Other symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome include skeletal disorders. Deformities of the joints, especially in the limbs and fingers are observed.
  • Most of the babies with this condition have a single horizontal line that runs through the entire palm and this line is called simian crease. They may also lack the ability to think, speak, concentrate, imagine, and learn. Even their IQ levels are said to be lower than that of the normal kids.
  • Apart from heart defects, other organ dysfunctions are also not uncommon. This may range from genital malformations to kidney and urinary tract problems.
As some of the above said symptoms are also seen in certain other disorders, they cannot be considered as a conclusive evidence for fetal alcohol syndrome, that will be best diagnosed by the doctor. As there is no cure for this condition, treatment is often done on the basis of the symptoms. While some of the problems can be remedied with surgery and medication, others like behavioral problems require counseling and support from family members. So it is always better to prevent the condition by refraining from drinking while pregnant. If you find it difficult, seek the help of your doctor.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert advice.