Fetal alcohol syndrome or FAS is a preventable, tragic health problem. Some people believe that FAS is a form of child abuse, the effects of which last for life.

FAS is caused by the effects of ethanol alcohol on the developing human embryo. The syndrome occurs more often in chronic alcoholics then light drinkers. Between 30% and 40% of all women who are heavy drinkers during pregnancy have a child afflicted with FAS. Although the heavy drinkers are the ones with children bearing obvious markings of FAS, moderate drinking can also produce moderate signs of FAS. Heavy drinking is considered 8 drinks a day containing 4 ounces of absolute alcohol combined. Women are advised to not drink at all during the pregnancy but also afterwards during breast feeding because there have been other disorders linked to alcoholic breast milk.

The consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is one of the leading preventable causes of birth defects and childhood disabilities in the United States... It is estimated that in 1992 the cost of treating FAS-affected abnormalities, FAS-affected infants, children, and adults was over 1.9 billion. The lifetime cost per child affected with FAS is estimated to be 1.4 million.

Babies born with FAS tend to have abnormalities of the central nervous system, and also abnormalities in the face and head. More specifically all of the following: Microcephaly, which gives the babies a small head. Short palpebral fissures, or small eye openings. Ptosis, eyelid droop. Epicanthic folds, where the skin folds over the inside eye corner. A short upturned nose. A long smooth philitrum (from lip to nose), a thin upper lip and a small jaw. The central nervous system’s problems can lead to mental retardation. Besides physical problems the kids have behavioral problems such as staying focused, impulsiveness, and an inability to surmise the consequences of one’s actions.

When the Royal college of Obstetricians and Gynecologists conducted a study of 400,00 American women who consumed alcohol during pregnancy, the results were interesting. They found that there was not one sign of FAS in women who consumed under 8.5 drinks a week. Through this study it was conjectured that there is no apparent risk to a child when the pregnant women consumes no more than one drink per day. Despite their findings drinking is not encouraged during pregnancy.

A study of pregnancies in eight European countries results where even more fascinating. They found that consuming no more than one alcoholic drink per day didn’t hamper the child's later development in fact the child scored higher in several areas of development in 18 months. An analysis of seven major medical research studies involving over 130,000 pregnancies gave even more interesting results that even 2-14 drinks a week didn’t produce a child with FAS.

Despite all these findings about how many drinks one can have during pregnancy it is still the most recommend not to consume any alcohol at all during pregnancy.


FAS and Public Awareness

* In 1981 the Surgeon General first advised that women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.

* Public law 100-690 was implemented in 1989, requiring warning labels on all alcoholic beverages sold in the United States.

* Since 1990 the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have stated that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should not drink alcohol.

* As of 1998, 19 states require the posting of alcohol health warning signs where alcoholic beverages are sold.

FAS Statistics

* In 1995, four times as many pregnant women frequently consumed alcohol as in 1991.5 Researchers speculate that the increase in alcohol consumption by pregnant women may be attributed to widespread reports on the health benefits of moderate drinking.

* 51% of women of child-bearing age between 18-25 and 53% between 26-34, report the use of alcohol within the past month.

* 17% of women of child-bearing age between 18-25 and 13% between 26-34, report binge drinking (five or more drinks on one occasion) within the past month.

* A national survey found that more than half of women age 15-44 drank while pregnant.

* Of the women who reported drinking during their pregnancy, 66% reported drinking in their first trimester; 54% reported drinking in their third trimester.

* FAS is estimated to occur in 1 to 2 live births per every 1,000 in the United States each year.

* Fetal Alcohol Effects (a less severe set of alcohol-related abnormalities) is estimated to occur in 3-5 live births per every 1,000 in the United States each year.2,

* According to the birth defects monitoring program, FAS rates among American Indians are 3.0 per 1000 live births compared to a rate of 0.6 per 1000 live births among African Americans and 0.1 per 1000 live births among Caucasians.

* FAS is not just a childhood disorder; exposure to alcohol as a fetus can cause a wide range of lifelong physical and mental disabilities.

* Fetal alcohol exposure may increase the risk for later alcohol, tobacco, and drug dependence in adults.

Works Cited

"alcohol consumption" Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

"FACT SHEET Fetal Alcohol Syndrome" Booze News.

David J. Hanson, Ph.D "fetal alcohol syndrome" Alcohol: Problems and Solutions.

"fetal alcohol syndrome" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

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