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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), also called fetal alcohol exposure (FAE), is a term used to describe a range of mild to severe problems that a growing fetus can develop if the mother drinks alcohol while she is pregnant. These problems include certain facial features, such as a small face or narrow eyes; slowed growth; birth defects; and learning and behavior problems.

The type and severity of effects from FASD depends on:

  • How much, how often, and at what stage of her pregnancy the mother drinks alcohol. No amount of alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy. Although the most severe effects-called fetal alcohol syndrome-often are related to heavy alcohol use (5 or more drinks on one occasion), a pregnant woman risks damaging her growing fetus whenever she drinks any amount of alcohol while she is pregnant. An amount of alcohol or a specific time during pregnancy when it is safe to drink has not been identified.
  • The mother's health and habits. A child who is born to a woman who used other drugs, and who had poor health while she was pregnant, is at increased risk for more severe or complicated problems from alcohol exposure.
  • Genetic traits a fetus inherits. Some fetuses are more likely to be harmed by alcohol exposure than others. The reason for this is not clear, but there may be a genetic link.

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