What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a condition that arises when a mother consumes excessive alcohol during her pregnancy. If a woman consumes alcohol while pregnant, the child is at risk of suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a leading cause of preventable birth defects and developmental disabilities.

How does Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder occur?

Alcohol easily passes through the placenta which is the organ of the body that sustains a baby during pregnancy. Alcohol consumption during the first trimester, including before a woman realizes that she is pregnant could cause severe defects which are not curable.

How can Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder be avoided?

Women should not consume alcohol during pregnancy or if they are trying to get pregnant in order to avoid the risk of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as there is no known safe amount of alcohol to consume in order to avoid the risks. Any amount of alcohol can harm a developing fetus and increase the chances of miscarriage.

  • If you suspect that your child is suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, take him/her to a doctor as soon as possible as this could reduce the behavioural problems.
  • If you are a woman with a drinking problem and wants to get pregnant, consult a doctor for advice.
  • If you are a light or social drinker and feel that you will get pregnant soon, avoid alcohol.

How Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder affects Kids?

Kids who have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder share features such as small eye openings, a thin upper lip and a small philtrum which is the groove between the nose and upper lip.

What are the symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

  • A small head
  • A smooth ridge between the upper lip and nose, small and wide-set eyes, a very thin upper lip, or other abnormal facial features
  • Below average height and weight
  • Hyperactivity
  • Lack of focus
  • Poor coordination
  • Delayed development and problems in thinking, speech, movement, and social skills
  • Poor judgment
  • Problems seeing or hearing
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disability
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney defects and abnormalities
  • Deformed limbs or fingers
  • Mood swings

How is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder diagnosed?

In order for someone with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to be diagnosed, a doctor must determine that they have abnormal facial features, slower than normal growth and central nervous system problems. The nervous system problems could be physical or behavioural and could be present as hyperactivity, lack of coordination or focus or learning disabilities. They could take the form of hyperactivity, lack of focus or learning disabilities. As the baby grows, there are other signs that can help confirm a diagnosis, these include:

  • Slow rate of growth
  • Abnormal facial features or bone growth
  • Hearing and vision problems
  • Slow language acquisition
  • Small head size
  • Poor coordination

What treatments are available for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

While Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is incurable, there are treatments which are available to reduce the problems. Depending on the extent to which the child is affected, they may need to make regular visits to the doctor or clinic. For example, speech therapists could help children learn how to speak.


While there are no specialized treatments for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the following can be taken in order to reduce effects.

  • Anti-depressants can be taken in order to reduce problems with sadness and negativity.
  • Stimulants can be taken to boost focus and other behavioural problems.
  • Anti-anxiety drugs can be taken to decrease anxiety.
  • Neuroleptics can be taken to treat anxiety and aggression.

Behavioural training

Behavioural training will help, for instance, friendships will teach kids social skills. Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder are likely to require extra help with their school work. For instance, they could require tutors to assist them with Mathematics.

Alternative treatments

Some people may prefer using alternative treatments to treat their child. These could include Yoga, exercise and healing practices such as massages and acupuncture.

A loving home

Children who suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder are more likely to develop with aggression and violence later on in life if they are exposed to such conditions or if they are victims themselves. If there is a child whom you know who has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, treat them with love and respect and also encourage others to do the same.

Is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder a major problem?

Yes! South Africa has the highest rate of reported children who are suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the figure stands at 8%-12%. In South Africa, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is 30%-50% more likely to occur than the next most common birth defect which is Downs’s syndrome. Overall It has been estimated that about 2 million South Africans are affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder while another 5 million may have the less severe symptoms.