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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

This month is National Birth Defect Prevention Month, and in keeping with the 2015 theme for the month of “Making Healthy Choices to Prevent Birth Defects - Make a PACT for Prevention”, we’d like to take a moment to discuss fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Signs and symptoms of FAS vary from child to child, from acute to sever cases. A few of the signs and symptoms are as follows:

  • low birth weight

  • small head circumference

  • failure to thrive

  • developmental delay

  • organ dysfunction

  • facial abnormalities, including smaller eye openings, flattened cheekbones, and indistinct philtrum (an underdeveloped groove between the nose and the upper lip)

  • epilepsy

  • poor coordination/fine motor skills

  • poor socialization skills, such as difficulty building and maintaining friendships and relating to groups

  • lack of imagination or curiosity

  • learning difficulties, including poor memory, inability to understand concepts such as time and money, poor language comprehension, poor problem-solving skills

  • behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, social withdrawal, stubbornness, impulsiveness, and anxiety

Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the most preventable birth defects, yet 7.6% of women reported drinking while pregnant in a 2010 study. A more recent statistic lists that as many as 2.0 cases of FAS occurs for every 1,000 live births in the United States. Though it is not a guarantee that your child will get FAS if you drink while pregnant, you do place them at risk by drinking. As the Mayo Clinic states: THERE IS NO AMOUNT OF ALCOHOL THAT IS KNOWN TO BE SAFE TO CONSUME DURING PREGNANCY. If you consume alcohol while pregnant, you place your child at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome.

A few suggestions to help prevent fetal alcohol syndrome are as follows:

If you are trying to get pregnant, consider giving up alcohol while trying to conceive. This reduces the risk of accidentally consuming alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy, before it may become known that fertilization has taken place. Damage to the fetus can occur in these early stages, so not drinking while trying to become pregnant is the best way to avoid fetal alcohol syndrome.

If you are not trying to conceive, but are sexually active, protection is an important factor in reducing risk of an unplanned pregnancy. Reducing the risk of unplanned pregnancy lowers the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome by lowering the risk of a person drinking while not knowing that they are pregnant. Protection ranges from oral contraceptives, IUDs, condoms, cervical caps, contraceptive foams, and many other options. Consider discussing one of the numerous methods and their benefits/risks with your doctor and come up with a plan that best fits your body, beliefs, and lifestyle.

If you do not wish to use any type of contraception method, yet still desire to have physical relationships, consider giving up alcohol so as to prevent FAS in an unplanned pregnancy. Damage to the fetus can occur in the earliest weeks of pregnancy, before a missed period.

To learn more about fetal alcohol syndrome, you can read about the topic on the Mayo Clinic’s website. The link is here.

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