Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

(Alcohol in Pregnancy; Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy; FAS)


Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) happens when a person drinks alcohol during pregnancy. The alcohol can cause birth and growth defects in the baby. FAS belongs to a group of health problems called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).


Alcohol can cross from the pregnant person's blood to the baby's blood. Even a small amount of any type can harm a growing baby.

Blood Traveling Through Mother's Placenta to Baby.

Alcohol travels through this path and affects the baby's development, particularly the heart and brain.

baby fetus placentahttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=71377137baby_fetus_placenta.jpgbaby fetus placentaNULLjpgbaby fetus placentaNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\baby_fetus_placenta.jpgNULL92NULL2008-06-043774007137_11869Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Things that raise a baby's chance of FAS are:

  • Unplanned pregnancy or drinking when a person does not yet know they are pregnant
  • Alcohol use disorder in the mother


Birth and growth problems depend on when the exposure happened and how much was consumed.

Babies with FAS may have:

  • Low birth weight
  • Small size and slowed growth
  • Small head
  • Small eyes
  • Short, flat nose
  • Flat cheeks
  • Small jaws
  • Misshapen ears
  • Thin upper lip
  • Shaking
  • Sight and hearing problems

As the infant grows, other symptoms may happen, such as:

  • Problems eating and sleeping
  • Delayed speech
  • Learning problems
  • Poor coordination
  • Behavior problems
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Problems getting along with other children

Children do not outgrow these problems. Teens and adults often have:

  • Problems at school
  • Problems keeping a job
  • Trouble living on their own
  • Mental health problems
  • Alcohol or substance abuse disorder
  • Anxiety problems
  • Anger problems
  • Legal problems


The doctor will ask about alcohol use while pregnant. You will also be asked about your child's symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.


There is no cure. The goal is to manage symptoms. Choices are:

  • Social services to teach parents how to care for and support a child with special needs
  • Special education services to help with learning


The risk of this problem can be lowered by not drinking alcohol while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.





  • Cook JL, Green CR, et al; Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: a guideline for diagnosis across the lifespan. CMAJ. 2016 Feb 16;188(3):191-197.
  • Drinking and your pregnancy. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-and-your-pregnancy. .
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorder.


  • Kari Kuenn, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.