Birth defects are devastating to most families. Everyone wants a healthy baby, but when a major birth defect occurs it can cause tremendous emotional strain on families and bring lifelong challenges to the child. We as physicians try to comfort many families by explaining that many defects are caused by factors out of our control, such as genetic abnormalities. In many cases, birth defects happen and there isn’t anything that could have been done to prevent it. There is one possible defect that is 100% preventable—Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD.)
Alcohol and drug use during pregnancy can cause physical birth defects and developmental difficulties in children that may not present until they are of school age. At birth, we see infants that can have abnormal facial features, growth problems, heart problems and difficulties with their vision or hearing. As these children get older, problems with behavior, learning and self-control become big issues. Many of these children have lower IQs and great difficulty not only with school, but living independently in society.
Children with FASDs might also have the following characteristics and behaviors:
– Smaller head size
– Shorter than average height
– Low body weight
– Poor coordination
– Hyperactive behavior
– Difficulty with attention
– Poor memory
– Difficulty in school, especially with math
– Learning disabilities
– Speech and language delays
– Intellectual disability
– Poor reasoning and judgment skills
– Sleep problems
– Kidney or bone problems
We know that chronic alcohol use and binge drinking (defined as four or more drinks in one sitting for women) can lead to problems in infants, but there are also many reports of pregnant women who only drink occasionally having infants born with problems related to alcohol exposure. No one knows if there is a safe amount of alcohol to consume when pregnant, nor if there is a safe time to drink during pregnancy. The best way to protect your baby is to abstain from alcohol completely if you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
Your baby’s brain is always developing, so it’s never safe to start drinking, and it’s never too late to stop. Whether you are a family member, friend, or a pregnant woman yourself—everyone needs to help prevent birth defects caused from alcohol and drug exposure. There is always help available. OakBend Medical Center partners with The Arc of Fort Bend County to bring awareness and education to the community about FASDs (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) and its effects on babies. Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.