Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Shouldn’t We Know Better?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) encompasses a range of issues in a newborn that map1-anyuse-and-bingeresults from alcohol use by the mother.  The range of symptoms include:

  • Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip (this ridge is called the philtrum)
  • Small head size
  • Shorter-than-average height
  • Low body weight
  • Poor coordination
  • Attention deficit and/or hyperactive behavior
  • Poor memory
  • Learning disabilities
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Sleep and sucking problems as a baby
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones

Lancet has published an estimate of 119,000 new cases of children born with FAS each year globally ( rate of between 6 and 14 cases per 10,000 newborns). The map below shows incidence by country, with Russia and Australia being hot spots.


However, the CDC has suggested that as many as 2% to 5% of births in the US are affected by FAS.

Examination of medical records produces the lowest estimates of FASD.  Community studies based on physical examinations of children produce much higher estimates.

The message is simple, but apparently hard for some to accept:  if you’re pregnant, don’t drink.

This discussion also ties into the current conversation about restricting abortions:  If you know a fetus has severe defects, whatever the cause, what’s the right thing to do?


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)”.  https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/facts.html
  • Popova, Svetlana et al., “Estimation of national, regional, and global prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy and fetal alcohol syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” The Lancet Global Health, rev. 25 January 2017.  http://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(17)30021-9/fulltext

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