Friday, December 11, 2009

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Last week we began a conversation about the use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and how a mother’s use of these drugs during pregnancy will affect her child. Today we will focus on the disease called fetal alcohol syndrome.

There are many things that are known about fetal alcohol syndrome. Babies born to mothers who use alcohol during pregnancy have a lower birth weight and a smaller head circumference. These babies show a significant difference in the size of the brain compared to babies whose mothers did not drink. Fetal alcohol syndrome babies have brains that are much smaller. Brain imaging studies such as the MRI also show abnormal brain development especially in regions of the brain responsible for judgement.

These babies did not grow well before birth and they show slow growth and poor coordination after birth. Many children with fetal alcohol syndrome will have abnormal heart structures that affect the health of the child. A pediatrician or other trained professional will notice variations in the structure of the child’s head, eyes, nose, and mouth. These babies even look different from their peers.

As they grow, behavior problems begin to arise. These children are usually retarded and have attention deficit disorders. How severe the retardation is and how serious the behavior becomes is a function of both how much alcohol the mother drank and when in her pregnancy she was drinking. The outcome for any fetal alcohol syndrome child is not good and the ultimate effect of the syndrome is unknown.

If you are pregnant and drinking, I cannot tell you for sure how severely retarded your child will be, but I can tell you that your child will experience the life long effects of retardation and challenges in behavior. Fetal Alcoholism is a disease. It is a preventable disease.

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