Prevention and Treatment for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Early diagnosis and treatment can lessen secondary conditions

If you are pregnant or want to get pregnant, the CDC and members of the medical community recommend stopping drinking alcohol. It is unclear exactly how much alcohol is considered unsafe, so, the CDC recommends curbing all alcohol use since the scientific evidence is unclear.

What is known for sure with tons of medical research to back it up is that binge drinking and heavy drinking are harmful during pregnancy.

Fetal alcohol syndrome affects an estimated 2 to 7 children out of 1000. Another 2 to 7% of U.S. children are thought to suffer milder forms of cognitive impairment due to alcohol exposure in the womb.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is 100 percent preventable if you do not drink any alcohol at all.

There is no cure for the disabilities of fetal alcohol syndrome, but if your health professionals know that your child has the syndrome, there are protective factors and treatments to reduce or prevent the development of secondary conditions associated with the syndrome.

What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a lifelong, irreversible condition that can cause physical and mental disorders in children whose mothers drank alcohol heavily during pregnancy. The syndrome is characterized by abnormal facial features, growth retardation, and central nervous system problems. Children with the syndrome may have difficulties with learning, memory, attention span, problem solving, speech, and hearing.

They can also have problems in school and problems getting along with others. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders refer to the whole range of effects that can happen to a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. 

Can Medication Reverse Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

There is no medication or treatment that will reverse the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome and the other disorders associated with alcohol-related birth defects.

There is no treatment to reverse or change the physical features or brain damage associated with maternal alcohol use during the pregnancy.

But you can prevent many secondary conditions that may develop across the spectrum with early intervention treatment services, which can improve a child’s development.

The types of treatment options include medication to help with some symptoms, behavior and education therapy, parent training, and other alternative approaches. No one treatment is right for every child. Good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups, and changes as needed along the way.

Protective factors found to benefit children who have fetal alcohol spectrum disorders include:

  • Diagnosis before the child turns 6 years old
  • Loving, nurturing, and stable home environment during the school years
  • Special education and social services intervention to develop an aggressive and early intervention plan
  • Absence of violence in the child's life

Early Diagnosis, Education and Social Services for More Positive Outcomes

Children who receive an early diagnosis have more positive outcomes than kids who do not. Since there is a wide range of disorders with a varying range of severity of symptoms associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, each child needs an individualized treatment plan.

Early diagnosis also helps family members and teachers understand the reactions and behavior of your child, which can differ widely from other children in the same situation. 

The earlier you can place a child who has the syndrome in appropriate educational classes and provide essential social services, the more improved the prognosis.

Research shows children with fetal alcohol syndrome who receive special education designed for their specific needs and learning ability are more likely to achieve their developmental and educational potential. 

It is also helpful if children with the syndrome and their family receive social services, such as respite care, stress management training, or behavioral management training.

There are more positive outcomes associated with families who receive social services than those who do not.

Nurturing and Stable Environment

All children benefit from a loving, nurturing and stable home life. But children with fetal alcohol syndrome can be more sensitive to disruptions, transient lifestyles, and harmful relationships. To prevent the secondary conditions associated with the syndrome, children who have fetal alcohol syndrome need support from healthy family members and the community.

Absence of Violence

Violence in the lives of children with fetal alcohol syndrome can have a significant influence on their likelihood of developing behavioral, legal and lifestyle problems later in life. This could be violence in the home, whether it is directed at the child or not, or at school from bullying or other situations. Studies show that children with the syndrome who live in stable and non-abusive homes are much less likely to develop secondary conditions.

The same is true for children with the syndrome who are involved in youth violence. Children with exposure to violence, in any form, such as getting into fights at school or around the neighborhood, are much more likely to have additional problems in their lives.

There are many resources online or through your doctor for more information about fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. 

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. "Protective Factors for Children with FAS" (2016)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. 2016.

Wells, A.M., Chasnoff, I.J., Schmidt, C.A., Telford, E., & Schwartz, L. (2012). Neurocognitive Habilitation Therapy for Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: An Adaptation of the Alert Program. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66, 24-34.

University of Virginia Health System. "High-Risk Newborn." (2008)

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