Nearly 40,000 babies are born each year suffering from the physical and mental effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, as reported by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, there is no “safe” level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, whether it is beer, wine or liquor. Those who participate in binge drinking or consume seven or more drinks a week put their unborn babies at greater risk of developing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. However, even one drink is unsafe.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports between 1000 and 6000 babies are born each year in the United States with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, one of the most severe of the spectrum disorders. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can cause physical birth defects and metal retardation. Fortunately, it is completely preventable. The neurological and physical effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are referred to as alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders and alcohol-related birth defects.
Babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are smaller than average-sized babies and generally remain smaller than their peers throughout their lifetime. Their facial features are characterized by small eyes, a thin upper lip, and smooth skin between the upper lip and nose, versus the traditional groove. Their organs and bones, specifically the heart and brain, might also be small and abnormally formed. Babies born without all the symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome might still exhibit signs and symptoms of other Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.
Children of mothers who consumed alcohol during pregnancy but are not diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can suffer from other neurological impairments their entire lives. These might include learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, attention disorders, impairments in memory and problem solving, delays in speech and language, and poor academic performance. Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that moderate drinking can cause significant neurological delays. As these children age, they are also at a greater risk for anti-social and criminal behaviors.
Women who are trying to get pregnant or who suspect they might be pregnant should not consume alcohol. Because a baby’s vital organs begin developing around the third week gestation, they could be susceptible to alcohol-related damage. The March of Dimes is an organization that works, in part, to educate the general public about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.
Although Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are ongoing, there are proactive measures available to children and their families to ensure they receive the help they need to cope. First of all, early diagnosis is critical. Children who are diagnosed before the age of six have an improved prognosis over their entire lifetime. Next, both social service and special education programs can be implemented to ensure the child receives adequate care and attention in order to reach his social and academic potential. Most importantly, however, is that the child be allowed to grow in a nurturing, non-violent and drug-free environment.