Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy Can Cause Permanent Damage To Your Child’s Brain

According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 86.4% of Americans have consumed alcohol as adults while 56% admitted that they had had alcohol over the past month. These values are one of the highest when compared to the global figures which have led to drinking being an everyday part of our lives.

Unfortunately, this lenient approach to alcohol has caused many more women to drink while pregnant with the usual excuse of ‘What harm can one drink have anyway?’

Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

What most of us are not aware of is the severity of consequences for the baby due to the alcohol consumed during the pregnancy. The outcomes we are talking about today are a set of neurological and developmental disorders called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) which have recently been found to affect 1.1%-5% of first-graders in the four US communities surveyed in a recent study.

What Is FASD?

FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders which is an umbrella term like Autism Spectrum Disorder that consists of a number of developmental disorders. These disorders are caused due to the effects of alcohol during the development of the baby while in the womb and can lead to learning disabilities, behavioral problems, mental issues and physical dysfunctions. Experts state that the condition is a case of permanent brain defect and can have lifelong implications for the child and their families.

Alcohol consumption is known to be the leading preventable cause of birth defects in the US.

The diagnosis of FASD is made by a doctor or healthcare professional. According to the leading experts, there are four diagnoses for this congenital disability which include FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), Partial FAS, Static Encephalopathy/Alcohol Exposed (SE/AE) and Neurobehavioral Disorder/Alcohol Exposed (ND/AE).

FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome)

FAS is considered to be a leading cause of cognitive disabilities in babies with potentially 9.8% of children having FASD. FAS is the most severe of the birth defects under Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders which causes:

  • Physical developmental deficiencies (height, weight)
  • Minor facial anomalies (thin upper lip, smooth philtrum, small eyes)
  • Significant and severe Central Nervous System deficiencies (neurological, structural, functional issues)
  • This diagnosis is done when prenatal alcohol exposure is confirmed or unknown.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Symptoms

Partial FAS

Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the diagnosis the doctor provides when:

  • A majority (but not all) of the physical development and facial anomalies in FAS are found
  • Severe CNS deficiencies are diagnosed
  • This diagnosis is done when prenatal alcohol exposure is confirmed.

Static Encephalopathy/Alcohol Exposed (SE/AE)

When a child is diagnosed with Static Encephalopathy, the diagnosis indicates that there are some abnormal changes and defects in the brain tissue structure or function which will not improve, nor reduce. The reason the brain damage associated with drinking is permanent is due to the disruption of the brain development as a fetus caused by the alcohol consumption. This disorder affects the central nervous system as well as the brain, leading to lifelong disadvantages.

Neurobehavioral Disorder/Alcohol Exposed (ND/AE)

Neurobehavioral Disorder is a diagnosis of the brain defect that is caused by prenatal drinking which has a moderate effect on the central nervous system of the child, leading to cognitive and behavioral difficulties. In this case, no physical or facial abnormalities are observed by the diagnosing doctor.

According to the experts, Static Encephalopathy and Neurobehavioral Disorder are five to ten times more likely to occur due to prenatal drinking when compared to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

What Causes Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

As previously mentioned, FASD is caused when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol. Here is a step by step description of what causes FASD:

  1. When you drink alcohol, it enters your bloodstream and crosses the placenta to the developing fetus.
  2. The baby ends up with a higher blood alcohol concentration compared to you because it processes it at a slower rate.
  3. The alcohol causes your developing baby to be deprived of sufficient oxygen and nutrients for the healthy development of organs and brain.
  4. The decline in nutrient supply causes physical developmental issues and brain damage even before being born.
There is no safe amount or period to drink alcohol when pregnant with the risk of FASD increasing with alcohol consumption.

Be aware of FASD causes when trying to get pregnant

FASD can also happen to babies in the early stages when you may not even know that you are pregnant. So, if you are planning or think you are pregnant, stop drinking alcohol immediately.

Can A Woman With FASD Pass It On To Her Child?

If a woman has FASD, she cannot pass it to her child because FASD is not a genetic disease or disorder. The only way for a child to have FASD is through alcohol exposure during pregnancy.

This is the same for men as their drinking doesn’t affect the child having FASD. However, it can help women resist the urge of alcohol when they know that their partner is also not drinking.

Can A Woman Who Drinks Cause FASD In Her Child From Breastfeeding?

Since only prenatal drinking causes Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, breastfeeding can’t cause the disorder. However, when a woman drinks alcohol, the alcohol passes into the produced breast milk which is supplied to the baby. This can negatively affect the development of the child’s central nervous system and brain. When breastfeeding, women are recommended not to drink alcohol or follow a schedule where they wait until the alcohol is entirely out of their system before breastfeeding.

Can FASD Be Treated?

As this disorder is formed when the child is still in the womb, FASD is permanent and does not have a cure. However, children with FASD can live with this disorder throughout their lives. Children who have their FASD diagnosed before the age of six months have a higher chance of doing well with special treatments like structured education, tutors, vocational programs, occupational therapy and special assistance.

How Can FASD Be Prevented?

In the US, between 1.1% and 5% of children have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders but the most surprising and saddening fact about this brain defect is that it is 100% preventable.

If you don’t drink any alcohol when you are pregnant, suspect that you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, you can avoid causing FASD for your baby. It’s that simple. And for those women who want to have a baby but have a drinking problem, you should seek help for the alcohol problem before trying to get pregnant. As for those women how have become pregnant and are still consuming alcohol, you should stop immediately as the risk of your child having FASD increases with every drop of alcohol you drink.

Dont drink alcohol during pregnancy to avoid FASD

For those who found this article interesting or helpful, please share it on your favorite social media outlet to help us spread the awareness of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders so that we can eliminate this problem that is entirely preventable.

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Michelle is the senior most expert who writes for this website. After completing her graduation and 10+ years of practice, Michelle has been involved and known for a lot of her philanthropy work. Michelle loves spending time researching and writing her papers. She occasionally writes for us and we are extremely proud to have her as one of our editors. Follow me on Linkedin