Fetal alcohol exposure occurs when a woman drinks while pregnant.  No amount of alcohol is safe for pregnant women to drink. Nevertheless, data from prenatal clinics and postnatal studies suggest that 20 to 30 percent of women do drink at some time during pregnancy.1

Alcohol can disrupt fetal development at any stage during a pregnancy – including at the earliest stages and before a woman knows she is pregnant.  Research shows that binge drinking, which means consuming four or more drinks per occasion, and regular heavy drinking put a fetus at the greatest risk for severe problems.2

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
Drinking during pregnancy can cause brain damage, leading to a range of developmental, cognitive, and behavioral problems, which can appear at any time during childhood.  Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is the umbrella term for the different diagnoses, which include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, and Alcohol-related birth defects.

People with FASD often have difficulty in the following areas:

  • Coordination
  • Emotional control
  • School work
  • Socialization
  • Holding a job

In addition, they often make bad decisions, repeat the same mistakes, trust the wrong people, and do not understand the consequences of their actions.

Risk Factors3
In addition to how much, how often, and in what stage of pregnancy a woman drinks, other factors can also play a role in how fetal alcohol exposure affects children. These factors include:

  • Poor health and inadequate nutrition
  • Living in a culture where binge or heavier drinking is common and accepted
  • Little awareness of FASD
  • Not receiving adequate prenatal care
  • Social isolation
  • Exposure to higher levels of stress

Researchers and clinicians have developed some effective learning and behavioral interventions to help people living with FASD. They are also investigating new behavioral interventions, as well as dietary supplementation and physical therapy.

Learn more about the effects of fetal alcohol exposure.

1 Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Fact Sheet, NIH, October 2010

2 Ibid.

3 May, Philip A., and J. Phillip Gossage, Maternal Risk Factors for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Alcohol Research and Health, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2011, p.16 -23