Signs of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
Did you know that you could harm your baby if you drink alcohol while you’re pregnant? Drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). These are a group of conditions that include physical, learning and behavior problems that may be caused by a woman drinking alcohol while pregnant. A child with an FASD may have a mix of these problems.
What causes FASDs?
FASDs are preventable if you do not drink alcohol while pregnant. If you do, alcohol passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. The alcohol can stop the brain from developing normally.
There is no safe amount or safe time to drink alcohol while pregnant, including before you know that you’re pregnant. Since you could get pregnant and not know for up to 4-6 weeks, avoid drinking alcohol if you think you could be pregnant. All wines, spirits and beers are harmful. You should always avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
It’s never too late to stop drinking. Your baby’s brain grows throughout pregnancy. The sooner you stop drinking, the safer it will be for you and your baby.
Types of FASDs
FASDs are grouped by the type of symptoms and include:
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS):
Children with FAS might have abnormal facial features, growth problems and nervous system problems. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can cause problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision or hearing. Children with FAS may have a mix of these problems and often have a hard time in school and trouble getting along with others. Fetal death is the most extreme outcome from drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND):
Children with ARND might have intellectual disabilities, and behavior and learning problems. They might do poorly in school and have difficulties with math, memory, attention, judgment, and poor impulse control.
Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD):
Children with ARBD might have problems with their heart, kidneys, bones or with hearing. They might have a mix of these.
Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE):
A child or youth with ND-PAE will have problems in three areas:
1. Thinking and memory. The child may have trouble planning or may forget material he or she has already learned
2. Behavior problems, such as severe tantrums, mood issues (for example, irritability), and difficulty shifting attention from one task to another
3. Trouble with day-to-day living, which can include problems with bathing, dressing for the weather, and playing with other children
Also, to be diagnosed with ND-PAE, the mother of the child must have consumed more than 13 alcoholic drinks per month of pregnancy or more than 2 alcoholic drinks in one sitting.
How do I know if my child has an FASD?
FASD conditions can range from mild to severe and can affect each baby in different ways. Conditions may include:
- Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip
- Small head size
- Shorter-than-average height
- Low body weight
- Poor coordination
- Hyperactive behavior
- Difficulty with attention
- Poor memory
- Difficulty in school (especially with math)
- Learning disabilities
- Speech and language delays
- Intellectual disability or low IQ
- Poor reasoning and judgment skills
- Sleep and sucking problems as a baby
- Vision or hearing problems
- Problems with the heart, kidneys or bones
How are FASDs diagnosed?
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the only FASD that has diagnostic criteria developed by the CDC and its partners. To diagnose FAS, doctors look for:
- Abnormal facial features (e.g., smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip)
- Lower-than-average height, weight or both
- Central nervous system problems (e.g., small head size, problems with attention and hyperactivity, poor coordination)
- Prenatal alcohol exposure; although confirmation is not required to make a diagnosis
There is no blood test or other medical test to diagnose FAS.
How are FASDs treated?
There are many types of treatment options to help with some symptoms. These include medication, behavior and education therapy, parent training, and other alternative approaches. No one treatment is right for every child. Good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups, and changes as needed along the way.
“Protective factors” may help reduce the effects of FASDs and help people with these conditions reach their full potential. Protective factors include:
- Diagnosis before 6 years old
- Loving, nurturing and stable home during the school years
- No violence
- Involvement in special education and social services
There is no cure for FASDs. These conditions last a lifetime. Research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development.
Help is Available
Talk to your doctor if you are drinking or drank alcohol during your pregnancy. Your doctor may refer you to an FASD specialist. In some areas, there are clinics whose staff have special training in diagnosing and treating children with FASDs. To find doctors and clinics in your area visit the National and State Resource Directory from the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS).
You can also call your state’s early intervention program to request a free evaluation to find out if your child can get services to help. This is sometimes called a Child Find evaluation. You do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral or a medical diagnosis to make this call. Where to call for a free evaluation from the state depends on your child’s age:
- If your child is younger than 3 years old, Call your state or territory’s early intervention program and say: “I have concerns about my child’s development and I would like to have my child evaluated to find out if he/she is eligible for early intervention services.”
- Find your state’s early intervention contact information here.
Learn more about early intervention »
Even if your child is not old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, call your local elementary school. They can help you have your child evaluated. Learn more about this process »
For More Information
To learn more about FASDs, visit:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov/fasd or call 800–CDC–INFO
- American Academy of Pediatrics FASD Toolkit: aap.org/fasd
- Center for Parent Information and Resources: parentcenterhub.org/resources/ or call (973) 642-8100
- National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS): nofas.org or call 800–66–NOFAS (66327)