Alcohol consumption by the mother is a leading cause of preventable birth defects in the fetus and is the only known cause of mental retardation that is completely preventable. Everything a mother drinks also goes to the fetus. Alcohol is broken down more slowly in the immature body of the fetus than in an adult's body. This can cause the alcohol levels to remain high and stay in the baby's body longer. In addition, the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth increases with alcohol consumption.
Even light or moderate drinking can affect the developing fetus. Because no amount of alcohol is safe, the US Surgeon General recommends that pregnant women avoid alcohol during pregnancy. An infant born to a mother who drinks alcohol during pregnancy can have problems included in a group of disorders called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). FASDs include the following:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following characteristics or behaviors may occur in children with FASDs:
Long-term problems in children with FASDs may include psychiatric problems, gang and criminal behavior, unemployment, and incomplete education.
There is no cure for FASDs, but children who are diagnosed early and receive appropriate physical and educational interventions, especially those in a stable and nurturing home, are more likely to have better outcomes than those who are not.
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