Drinking alcohol while pregnant is a leading cause of birth defects in a fetus. Everything a mother drinks also goes to the fetus. Alcohol is broken down more slowly in the immature body of the fetus than in the body of an adult. This can cause the alcohol levels to remain high and stay in the baby's body longer. The risk of miscarriage and stillbirth also goes up if the mother drinks alcohol.
Even light or moderate drinking can affect the developing fetus. No amount of alcohol is safe. So pregnant women should not drink alcohol. An infant born to a mother who drinks alcohol during pregnancy can hend up with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). This group of disorders includes:
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). These are the most severe problems that can happen when a woman drinks during pregnancy. These include fetal death. Infants born with FAS have abnormal facial features. They may also have growth and central nervous system problems, such as learning problems.
Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND). Children with ARND may not have full FAS. But they have learning and behavioral problems because they were exposed to alcohol in the womb. They may have trouble with mathematics, problems with memory or attention, problems with impulse control or judgment, and poor school performance.
Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD). Birth defects related to prenatal alcohol exposure can include abnormalities in the heart, kidneys, bones, hearing, or a combination of these.
According to the CDC, children with FASDs may have:
Small for gestational age at birth or small stature compared with their peers
Facial abnormalities such as small eyes and thin mouth
Poor physical coordination
Developmental disabilities, like speech and language delays
Cognitive delays or low IQ
Problems with daily living
Poor reasoning and judgment skills
Sleep and sucking problems in infancy
Vision or hearing problems
Problems with the heart, kidney, or bones
Long-term problems in children with FASDs may include:
There is no cure for FASDs. But children who are diagnosed early and get the right care are more likely to have better outcomes than those who don't. This is especially true for those in a stable and nurturing home.