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Fetal alcohol syndrome (FASD).

It’s important to understand that alcohol can affect an unborn child’s development.

When you drink alcohol while pregnant, regardless of the amount, it crosses the placental barrier and circulates through your baby’s system.

However, alcohol stays in your baby’s system longer than it stays in your system. This is because you have a fully formed liver, which can metabolise alcohol. Your baby’s liver is still forming, so it can’t process alcohol properly.

The level of harm that alcohol does to your baby is dependent on the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption. Your age, your overall health and your environment will also influence how alcohol affects your little one.

What is FASD?

FASD is a type of permanent, irreversible brain damage. It is also the broad term for a number of alcohol-related disorders in babies, including:

  • Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
  • Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)
  • Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ARND)
  • Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)

The most severe consequence of drinking alcohol while pregnant is FAS.

Symptoms of FASD

FASD disorders can affect your baby physically, developmentally and behaviourally. FAS is the most extreme case of FASD. It is characterised by babies with deformed facial features, including:

  • Unusually small eye openings
  • Flat cheekbones
  • Flattened groove between nose and upper lip
  • Excessively thin upper lip

All FASD disorders affect the behaviour and mental development of babies and cause issues like:

  • Attention and learning difficulties
  • Impulsiveness
  • Difficulty relating actions to consequences
  • Memory problems
  • Developmental delays
  • Damage to major organs
  • Low IQ
  • Low birth weight
  • Spontaneous miscarriage

Treatment for FASD

Unfortunately, there is no cure or specific treatment for babies born with FASD. The physical, mental and behavioural deficiencies typically stay with them for a lifetime.

However, when diagnosed early, there are ways that professionals, family and friends can help reduce the severity of some symptoms.

Early intervention is the best chance for young children with FASD to improve their life experience.

Helpful services for a child affected with FASD might involve:
  • A specialised team of professionals, such as an occupational therapist, a special education teacher, a psychiatrist and a speech therapist
  • Special services at primary and high school to help with learning and behavioural problems
  • Medications to help with some symptoms

Helpful services for you and your partner might involve:

  • 1-on-1 counselling to assist in dealing with any issues that your family might face which are related to FASD
  • Treatment for you if you suspect that you may have an underlying problem with limiting alcohol consumption
  • Parenting classes to help improve your lifestyle choices and prevent future pregnancies from being affected by alcohol consumption.

More Information

For more information on FASD, you can visit fasdhub.org.au.

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