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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome… is the name given to a group of physical and mental birth defects that are the direct result of a woman’s drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a series of mental and physical birth defects that can include mental retardation, growth deficiencies, central nervous system dysfunction, craniofacial abnormalities and behavioral maladjustment’s. Fetal Alcohol Effect is a less severe set of the same symptoms. All communities nationwide, and especially high-risk women in their childbearing years, need better information about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.

But most health care providers are unfamiliar with and untrained in the issues of substance abuse among pregnant women. FAS/FAE is widely misdiagnosed and under diagnosed and less than 10% of medical schools require students to complete a course on the proper diagnosis and referral of individuals with alcoholism and other drug addictions. Statistics study found that doctors appear less likely to tell a black woman to quit drinking and smoking during pregnancy than they are to tell a white woman.

Pregnant black women were thirty percent more likely than white women to report that they had never been told to quit drinking. (The New York Times,January 19, 1994) If you drink wine, beer, or liquor when you are pregnant, your baby could develop FAS. A baby with FAS can suffer from mental retardation, central nervous dysfunction, organ dysfunction and facial abnormalities. These disabilities will last a lifetime. No amount of alcohol has been proven safe to consume during pregnancy. FAS and FAE (Fetal Alcohol Effects) are 100% preventable when a pregnant woman abstains from alcohol.

In 1991, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that FAS is the leading known cause of mental retardation. At least 5,000 infants are born each year with FAS, or approximately one out of every 750 live births. Thirty to forty percent of babies whose mothers drink heavily throughout pregnancy have the Syndrome. FAS/FAE is a problem found in all races and socio-economic groups. FAS and FAE are widely under diagnosed. Some experts believe between one third and two-thirds of all children in special education have been affected by alcohol in some way.

FAS/FAE produces irreversible physical, mental and emotional effects. Behavioral and mental problems of FAE children can be just as severe as those of FAS children. Many children with FAS/FAE are not able to understand cause and effect relationships and long-term consequences. The institutional and medical costs for one child with FAS are $1. 4 million over a lifetime. What babies are “at risk” for FAS and FAE? Whenever a mother drinks, her baby is at risk for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effect. When a pregnant women drinks alcohol, her baby does too.

It is not clear whether there is a threshold amount of alcohol that must be consumed before damage to the baby occurs. There is also no proof that small amounts of alcohol are safe. Is there a cure for FAS? There is no cure for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Once the damage is done, it cannot be undone. However, FAS is the only cause of birth defects that can be completely prevented. How can FAS be prevented? The easiest way for a woman to prevent FAS is to not drink during pregnancy. Communities, schools, and concerned individuals can help to prevent FAS/FAE, through education and intervention.