Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Research – Drinking During Pregnancy Is It REALLY Harmful?

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If we drink alcoholic beverages when we are carrying our baby, in what should be our protective womb, fetal alcohol syndrome research continues to substantiate that the delicate and complicated tissues of the fetus are grossly affected resulting in a condition known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).  Sometimes, mothers are not yet aware they are pregnant, so how disheartening to think during a critical juncture in fetus development that our child’s health can be profoundly and negatively impacted.  At that early developmental stage the effects of mom’s drinking a couple of beers with her Mexican food or pizza or a couple glasses of wine on her date night out with husband could mean a lifetime of physical disabilities, mental, and emotional challenges.

Photograph of a baby who presents with FAS facial features. Teresa Kellerman

Photograph of a baby who presents with FAS facial features.  By Teresa Kellerman & FAASTAR

What Do You Look For?

The symptoms of alcohol exposure in an infant are sometimes not identified or the symptom may not be correctly assigned to the initiating factor that the fetus has had alcohol exposure.  These symptoms include:

• Poor growth while the baby is in the womb and after birth
• Decreased muscle tone and poor coordination
• Delayed development and problems in three or more major areas: thinking, speech, movement, or social skills
• Heart defects
• Problems in the facial structure, including narrow and small eyes with large folds in the corner of the eye, small head, small upper jaw, smooth groove in upper lip, and smooth and thin upper lip


Some of the sad affects to the growing baby have been given specific acronyms that name the conditions. This is just a short list of these conditions.  FAS has a remarkable physical presentation that is characterized by features in the child’s face and growth retardation.  Other developmental concerns can also be identified such as the following conditions;

ARND: Central nervous system will present with abnormal development and/or behavioral or cognitive abnormalities.

Facial features: short nose, no indentation between nose and mouth, thin upper lip are dominant features. Image from CDC training module

Facial features: short nose, no indentation between nose and mouth, thin upper lip are dominant features. Image from CDC training module

Also indicated are the risks for depression and negative or low self-esteem issues.

ARNB: Defects in several organ systems, such as the heart, kidney, vision, and hearing.



This has become a recent area of study for me as a Pediatric Physician felt that my little one presented with some of the identifying signs for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or as it is also now called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).  And we received a referral to see a geneticist.  I wanted to understand more about what a gene study would accomplish, especially since our insurance coverage stalled in allowing the tests to be done.  Genetic testing I am learning involves integrating health history and family history with the actual test to examine my granddaughter’s genes for a specific gene marker that predisposes her to negative affects of alcohol in the uterus.

The “OUCH” Factor

Let’s be frank.  I’m very gimpy about doing this because there is a place inside of my heart that doesn’t want to substantiate my daughter could have been drinking while she was pregnant.  That hurts!  Nevertheless, it would be foolish and selfish of me to not know EVERY  single thing that is going on with my granddaughter.  I must be able to ensure she has all the support necessary.  Without the right insights and documentation for her disabilities she could lack support to traverse a what will likely be a difficult, often complicated world and that will only make things much, much harder on her.  That is not tenable, not acceptable.  So, I have moved ahead and beyond the emotions to ‘do whats right’.

Gotta have information, being in the dark won’t help me feel any better, so I have started to dig.  Here are a couple of  my research articles, a flyer, and brochure that boil the research down.  Also, I am including in my Library Page some more information if you want to dig down further on this subject.  One of these articles is a study from England and fairly technical.  Still it made some interesting points.  Check them out when you have time to read, if you are so inclined.

Here’s What I’ve Discovered

This has been an ongoing problem for a number of years.   And even though efforts to use labeling and public information announcements, providing adequate resources and information to physicians, there are still many mothers that drink during their pregnancy.  This is alarming since the scientific confirmation exists that alcohol is a teratogen which is a technical word for an agent that causes harm to an unborn child.  There is NO safe amount of alcohol and its affects can cause damage at any time during the pregnancy.

To drill down on this concern I prefer using resources within educational environments like the University of California and governmental resources like those within Canada and the United States.  Here are three references  that I have embedded the links from the United States Center for Disease Control or other ‘.gov’ locations.

Here is a brochure that has some good charts and graphics, simplifying some of the narrative and emphasizes points by using these visuals.  The intention of the message is apparent.  http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/documents/fasdbrochure_final.pdf

This resource is from the Department of Health and Human Services and its branch Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  It is a two page ‘flyer’ that helps make some excellent points.


From the National Institutes of Health, an excellent resource as it has several links to other sources that can build understanding.


We are a ‘screen’ oriented society today so its good to have this brief YouTube from the CDC website, too.  I like having a face to the FAS story.  This is one family’s experience involving the discovery, treatment, and sometimes daily challenges of their son and family following the FASD diagnosis.   With conviction and compassion the interviewed parent makes a good case for accessing support and managing difficulties.

The National Institute of Health has studied this problem and for years been encouraging mothers to not drink when pregnant and to also avoid alcohol consumption when anticipating or planning a pregnancy, but the problem persists.  The statistics are alarming and it is apparently a worldwide problem.  You may find that information interesting but here from the World Health Organization (WHO) is an article regarding natives of Australia:


How Widespread A Problem Is This?

In the United States the Center for Disease Control has published this discouraging chart. I am sharing it here because I am convinced that having reliable information will to narrow the gap that even ‘social drinking’ can have a hugely negative impact on their child’s health.  Notice that the chart identifies ‘any use’ of alcohol and ‘binge drinking’ in the statistics.  Click on the graph and it will expand so it can be more easily read.

FASD statistics from the Center for Disease Control

FASD statistics from the Center for Disease Control



I sincerely hope that by having this information at your fingertips you will be supported in making the wise decision to NOT drink before you are planning a pregnancy, during the pregnancy, and while you are nursing your child.  It is sobering to know that if you drink alcohol then so is your fetus and infant!  We might as well take that bottle of beer and have the child sucking on it because the alcohol will cross the placental barrier to the baby.  The developing fetus does not have the ability to metabolize the alcohol within their tiny body.  This will exponentially amplify the affects of alcohol to the baby!

So, with accurate information we can have a solid foundation for our choices!  What will you choose?

I am here to help!  Please let me know what your thoughts or questions regarding this subject.  If you have some personal experience that you would like to share with me, I would really like to hear your story.   Leave me a comment or …

Contact Me Here!

And of course if you see something of value here that will help someone else, please g+ me or send this along into your social networks.  Who knows maybe you will touch someone’s life in a positive way.  Now that is worth those couple of moments to share, don’t you think!

Kind Regards,




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