How Do I Know My Child Has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

FAS Illustration
Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. AAP

Question: How Do I Know My Child Has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Answer: Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the severe end of a spectrum of effects that can occur when a woman drinks during pregnancy (with fetal death being the most severe case). FAS is a disorder characterized by growth retardation, facial abnormalities, and central nervous system dysfunction.

If a pregnant woman drinks alcohol but her child does not have the full symptoms of FAS, it is possible that her child may be born with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders ARND.

Children with ARND do not have full FAS, but may demonstrate learning and behavioral problems caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol.

If you think a child may have FAS or other alcohol-related effects, contact a doctor. Children with FAS or ARND may have the following characteristics or exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Small for gestational age or small in stature in relation to peers
  • Facial abnormalities such as small eye openings
  • Poor coordination
  • hyperactive behavior
  • Learning disabilities
  • Developmental disabilities (e.g., speech, language delays)
  • Mental retardation or low IQ
  • Problems with daily living
  • Poor reasoning and judgement skills
  • Sleep and sucking disturbances in infancy

Problems Later in Life

In addition, people with FAS often experience problems as they get older such as:

  • Mental health problems
  • Disrupted school experiences
  • Trouble with the law
  • Unemployment
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior

In addition, children with fetal alcohol syndrome can develop secondary conditions related to FAS.

These are conditions that they were not born with, but developed later in life.

If you suspect that a newborn may have been exposed to excessive amounts of alcohol during the mother's pregnancy, probably the quickest way to confirm if the child needs to begin treatment for fetal alcohol syndrome is by examining the baby's facial features (see photo above).

Other Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome children will typically exhibit a small head, epicanthal folds, low nasal bridge, small eye openings, flat midface, short nose, smooth philtrum, thin upper lip and an undeveloped jaw.

There are many other facial and other physical abnormalties that children with FAS may exhibit, including growth deficiencies, skeletal deformities, organ deformities, and central nervous system handicaps. See this detailed list of other fetal alcohol syndrome features.

Back to: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome FAQ

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