What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? - Characteristics, Symptoms & Signs

Instructor: John Williams
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can be very dangerous for an unborn child. In many cases, alcohol consumption can lead to the development of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This article discusses FAS and its symptoms.


The fetal period of pregnancy is a critical segment of child development prior to birth. It extends from week ten of pregnancy to birth. During this time, many of the body systems and structures are growing and organizing for proper function. Therefore, the developing child is also very sensitive to factors that can affect this growth. Mothers have to take precaution in terms of the foods and drinks that they consume in order to avoid any negative effects. If they don't take precautions, the effects on the child could be devastating.

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or FAS, is a serious condition that develops in children when the mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy. It is the most severe condition of the disorders associated with alcohol consumption by expecting mothers. This syndrome is marked by a collection of developmental abnormalities, which are described in the next section. Alcohol can be poisonous to a child in the womb, and can pass from the mother to the child through an organ known as the placenta. While the mother may be able to avoid any major adverse effects, the child is typically going to be affected.

In discussing FAS, it is important to stress the following: alcohol at any stage of pregnancy is dangerous to the child. Even in the early stages, prior to the start of the fetal period, alcohol consumption may cause irreparable damage. For example, during the first three months of pregnancy, including the time prior to the fetal period, alcohol consumption can lead to a miscarriage, or loss of child. However, the tell-tale signs of FAS are usually indicative of alcohol consumption later in pregnancy. Therefore, FAS is more associated with fetal development, and other conditions may arise if there is alcohol consumed early in the pregnancy.

Physical Effects on the Child

A child with FAS may exhibit a variety of effects. Almost all children with FAS will have mental delays and learning disabilities. This can include delays in talking, thinking, and social skills. Some children with FAS may also develop issues with heart development and cardiovascular function. More noticeably, children with FAS tend to have facial features that indicate poor bone and tissue development, such as small heads, small jaws, and abnormal eye development.

Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome


Scientists have not determined a 'safe' amount of alcohol for pregnancy. It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control that expecting mothers do not consume ANY alcohol to avoid the risks to the child. This may also include consuming foods cooked with alcohol if not prepared properly.

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