“Of all the substance abuse, including heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, alcohol produces by far the most serious neuro-behavioral effects in the fetus” – Institute of Medicine 1996 Report to Congress
What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a serious health problem that occurs when a woman who is pregnant consumes alcohol – the highest risks are during the first trimester. Women who drink while pregnant risk giving birth to a baby with abnormal facial features – flat midface, short nose, thin upper lip, etc. – and other developmental problems including behavioral health issues that are usually hard to diagnose until later in life.
Due to the varying signs and symptoms of FAS, a more recently recognized category of this disease, Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND), refers to those children who don’t exhibit any physical abnormalities, but experience behavioral and mental problems as a result of FAS. Unfortunately for these babies, the behavioral and mental disabilities are often much harder to diagnose, and often times don’t get diagnosed until much later in life. Signs of ARND can include:
- Problems with the law – multiple arrests or problems obeying authority figures
- Emotional problems – severe depression, anger, or seeming to be “hyper” all of the time
- Social Withdrawal
Children with ARND – or Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) – may score well on intelligence tests, but these behavioral and emotional problems can prevent them from succeeding in life.
How serious is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
Unfortunately, FAS, ARND, and FAE are very serious problems that are more common in babies than you may think. The sad truth is – because brain development happens during the first trimester – a lot of women don’t know that they are pregnant and end up consuming alcohol during the most important stage in the fetus’ development.
Though women will typically stop drinking when they discover they are pregnant – though some do not, claiming that a little bit of alcohol won’t hurt the baby – the damage could already be done to the development of the fetus. FAS is hard to research, and the medical community debates constantly on whether or not any alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy. Since it is unethical to have pregnant women drink alcohol in order to research this disease, self-reporting is the only method doctors can use to learn more about FAS. Though research is limited, there are some pretty scary facts about FAS:
- 1 in 9 women report binge drinking in the first trimester of pregnancy
- Between .05 – 2 per 1000 live births are children born with FAS.
- 40,000 children that are born each year are estimated to have FAS – could be 80,000 with half of the children remaining undiagnosed.
- It’s estimated that a child with FAS will cost $2 million or more in their lifetime for treatment and disability
How do I Protect my Unborn Baby from FAS?
Though many women do not purposely drink during pregnancy, there are ways to lower the risks of having a baby with FAS. First and foremost, if you are not yet ready to be pregnant and become a mother, practice safe sex. It’s the number one way to be sure that you do not accidentally become pregnant.
Another safe practice for any woman who consumes alcohol is to have a regular check-up with your OB/GYN. Having this check-up will not only confirm as early as possible if you are pregnant or not, but it will also help in the prevention and cure of any STDs.
If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of pregnancy – or if you have recently had unprotected sex – refrain from consuming alcohol until you take a pregnancy test. If the test shows negativity and you are still suspecting that you may be pregnant, contact your doctor and make an appointment to confirm the test results.
If you are a woman who wants to become pregnant, but you admittedly have a problem with alcohol and substance abuse, contact Serenity Acres today to receive help for your problem. Serenity Acres offers many different treatment programs including the 12-Step program, Holistic Treatments, and Dual Diagnosis.
There are measures women can take to prevent FAS.