Foetal alcohol syndrome

Specialty of Paediatrics

What is foetal alcohol syndrome?

Foetal alcohol syndrome occurs when a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy and runs the risk of damaging her baby, as drinking may affect the way that the baby’s brain develops and can result in mental and physical problems. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is an umbrella term for a range of preventable alcohol-related birth defects.
 

What are the symptoms?

A baby born with foetal alcohol syndrome may have the following symptoms:

  • growth problems in the uterus and after birth
  • poor coordination
  • decreased muscle tone
  • cognitive delay in thinking, language and social skills
  • cardiac problems such as ventricular septal defect or ventricular septal defect
  • abnormalities in facial features – very thin upper lip, small wide-set eyes or a cleft
  • a small head
  • learning disabilities
     

What are the causes of foetal alcohol syndrome?

Foetal alcohol syndrome occurs because the mother has consumed alcohol during pregnancy. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it is easy for some of the alcohol to cross the placenta to the foetus and cause serious harm to the baby. A developing foetus does not process alcohol the same way as an adult as the alcohol is more concentrated and prevents nutrition and oxygen from reaching vital organs. Studies show that alcohol use is most harmful during the first three months of pregnancy.
 

Can it be prevented?

Avoiding alcohol during pregnancy is key to preventing foetal alcohol syndrome. It is important for women to control the use of contraceptives if they are not planning on becoming pregnant, or to detect their pregnancy in time to avoid consuming alcohol during the first months of the baby's gestation. There are psychological therapies to help mothers who are alcoholics to stop drinking alcohol during pregnancy and not harm the baby.
 

What is the treatment of foetal alcohol syndrome?

Once the damage is caused to the baby, it is not possible to cure it. The treatments will be indicated to the pathologies derived from foetal alcohol syndrome such as growth or cognitive problems.

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