Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a pattern of birth defects caused by a woman drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Children born with FAS can have several characteristic facial features which include a thin upper lip, small eye openings, long smooth philtrum (area between the nose and upper lip) and a flat midface. Primary brain development occurs from day 15-25, and continues to develop throughout the entire pregnancy until age 4 . Thus, alcohol exposure during this time significantly increases the risk for brain damage.
The majority of organ development (central nervous system, heart, eyes, legs, arms, teeth, ears, palate, and external genitalia) occurs in the first trimester (12 weeks). Alcohol exposure during this time increases the risk for a physical birth defect involving one of these organs. Second trimester (13-24 weeks) exposure to alcohol increases the risk for spontaneous abortion. The third trimester is the period of rapid fetal growth. Thus, alcohol exposure during this time can result in growth retardation. The central nervous system is developing throughout pregnancy, therefore there is no safe time during pregnancy to consume alcohol.
Other problems associated with FAS include lower IQ, poor fine and gross motor skills, low muscle tone, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, attention problems, and speech and language delay. Children, adolescents and adults with FAS suffer from impulsive behavior, memory problems, poor judgment, problems doing math, and are easily frustrated and disorientated.
When a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, it freely crosses the placenta and the fetus or embryo experience the same amount of alcohol except without a fully developed organ system to deal with this insult. The most damaging effects of prenatal exposure are on the developing brain. FAS is preventable, sexually active women need only to abstain from alcohol.
FAS is a permanent birth defect. FAS is 100% preventable.