Foetal Alcohol Syndrome: Alcohol Can Harm Your Unborn Baby | Western Cape Government

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome: Alcohol Can Harm Your Unborn Baby

(Western Cape Government)
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the most common preventable form of intellectual disability in the world, yet it is a serious public health problem in the Western Cape.

FAS occurs in infants born to women who drink heavily during pregnancy. The brain of the foetus does not develop properly due to the mother's consumption of alcohol whilst pregnant or even before pregnancy. Alcohol enters the unborn baby's bloodstream, causing damage to the foetus.

The child is affected physically and mentally. The damage can include attention deficit disorder, a low level of IQ, facial deformities, immune system malfunctioning, memory loss and low birth weight. Such damage is permanent and cannot be reversed. Alcohol harms unborn babies and results in them needing special care for the rest of their lives.

Symptoms of FAS:

  • Limited growth - Even at birth the child is already smaller than average.
  • Head diameter - The head is smaller than normal. The middle third of the face is underdeveloped.
  • Face characteristics - Small eyes, a long and smooth upper lip and the bridge of the nose is flat.
  • Mental disability - Average IQ is 65. Struggles with Mathematics and languages in school.
  • Behaviour problems - Hyperactive, impulsive, jittery and does not concentrate.
  • Physical development - Sits, crawls and walks later than other children.

Risk Factors Associated with FAS:

  • Any alcohol consumed by a pregnant woman; it is not safe to drink any alcohol during pregnancy.
  • Additional substance abuse.
  • The older the pregnant woman who drinks alcohol, the higher the risk to the foetus.
  • If the woman continues to drink, the effects of alcohol on the developing foetus gets worse with every consecutive pregnancy.
  • Genetic factors - The genetic make-up of the mother and/or foetus might protect them from or make them vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.
  • The health and nutritional status of the mother.
  • Poverty.
  • Low maternal education.
  • If there is a drinking partner.

Basic Health Messages:

  • Stop drinking alcohol if you are pregnant or thinking of falling pregnant.
  • Remember that whatever you drink your baby will also drink.

Preventing FAS:

Available treatment services include the following -

  • Educating, informing and counselling mothers about the dangers of drinking while pregnant.
  • Diagnosing and treating affected children.

Treatment services are provided at primary healthcare clinics, antenatal clinics or at secondary and tertiary hospitals if referred up the line. Should a parent/caregiver or teacher be worried about their child, they can be taken to the nearest clinic from where the child will be referred to the most appropriate service for further assessment.

Useful Contacts:

Organisation Tel Fax E-mail Website
Alcoholics Anonymous 021 418 0908 021 418 0908
Al-Anon 021 595 4517 086 523 3030
Narcotics Anonymous 083 900 6962
SANCA 021 945 4080 021 945 4082
Foundation of Alcohol-Related Research (FARR) 021 686 2645 021 685 7034
DOPSTOP 021 883 8780 021 883 8780
The content on this page was last updated on 15 March 2014