Encyclopedia Home / F / Fetal alcohol syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome

  • Definition

    Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to growth, mental, and physical problems that may occur in a baby when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy.


    Alternative Names

    Alcohol in pregnancy; Drinking alcohol during pregnancy; Alcohol-related birth defects; Fetal alcohol effects


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Using or abusing alcohol during pregnancy can cause the same risks as using alcohol in general. However, it poses extra risks to the fetus. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it easily passes across the placenta to the fetus. Because of this, drinking alcohol can harm the baby's development.

    A pregnant woman who drinks any amount of alcohol is at risk, since no "safe" level of alcohol use during pregnancy has been established. However, larger amounts appear to increase the problems. Binge drinking is more harmful than drinking small amounts of alcohol.

    Timing of alcohol use during pregnancy is also important. Alcohol use appears to be the most harmful during the first 3 months of pregnancy However, drinking alcohol anytime during pregnancy can be harmful.