Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

The safest thing for your baby is to not drink alcohol at all.

The safest thing for your baby is to not drink alcohol at all.

The Chief Medical Officers’ guideline for pregnant women is that:

  • If you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

  • Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk. The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be low if you have drunk only small amounts of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant or during pregnancy. If you find out you are pregnant after you have drunk alcohol during early pregnancy, you should avoid further drinking. You should be aware that it is unlikely in most cases that your baby has been affected. If you are worried about alcohol use during pregnancy do talk to your doctor or midwife.

    The damage happens because a mother’s blood passes to the baby through the placenta. This can affect cells in the baby’s brain and spinal cord, and disrupt development.  Children can be at risk of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) which is a type of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a term used to describe problems that children can experience due to alcohol exposure in the womb.


What is Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is diagnostic term to describe a number of conditions that affect the brain and body due to exposure to alcohol in the womb. 

Whilst prevalence rates of FASD remain unknown, a recent UK study found that up to 17% of children screened positively for symptoms of FASD*. FASD is a lifelong disability, however, once diagnosed a team of health professionals can deliver educational and behavioural strategies to help manage symptoms.

FASD is an umbrella term for conditions that range from mild to severe physical, behavioural and/or learning problems. There are three types of FASD:

  • Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) 

  • Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)

  • Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)

*McQuire, Mukherjee, Hurt et al. (2018). Screening prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in a region of the United Kingdom: A population-based birth-cohort study



Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Symptoms of FAS where the baby has been exposed to alcohol in the womb can include:

  • A smaller head than average.

  • Growth problems – small birth weight, slow growth rate into adulthood.

  • Distinctive facial features – such as small eyes, a thin upper lip, and a smooth area between the nose and upper lip. Evidence of these facial features usually form part of the diagnostic assessment.

  • Problems with movement and co-ordination.

  • Learning difficulties – problems affecting speech, social skills, timekeeping, maths and/or memory.

  • Problems with mood, attention or behaviour.

  • Problems with organs such as the liver, kidneys and heart.

  • Problems with hearing and vision.

These problems are irreversible or permanent. Early and correct diagnosis with appropriate support, will help to reduce the impact of the challenges associated with the condition.

Children with FAS are more likely to experience challenges such as problems at school, mental health issues, and increased risk taking behaviour which can include alcohol and other drug misuse and antisocial behaviour. These can lead to further challenges in adulthood such as gaining and maintaining a job and living independently.

A doctor or health professional will need to be aware of any exposure to alcohol in pregnancy in order to assess and diagnose FAS.

For more information or advice

Talk to your midwife or doctor or contact
National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK

Phone 020 8458 5951

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