Frequently asked questions about Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Reading time: 5 min
Can FASD and FAS be prevented?

Yes. FASD and FAS are 100% preventable by avoiding alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Alcohol consumed by the mother passes to the foetus through the umbilical cord. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her foetus.

Is there any safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy?

No. No alcohol at all should be consumed from when a woman decides to become pregnant until she stops breastfeeding.

Can FASD be cured?

There is no cure for FASD. However, identifying children with these disorders and intervening as soon as possible can help them to reach their full potential.

Is there treatment for FASD?

There is no specific treatment for the neurodevelopmental damage associated with FASD. The damage that alcohol causes to the brain is permanent, however the resulting symptoms can be treated. It is essential to make a diagnosis as early as possible.

I suspect that my child may have FASD. What should I do?

If you think your child may have foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, share your concerns with your paediatrician and ask to be referred to a specialist (an expert in foetal alcohol spectrum disorders), for example a paediatrician specialising in child developmental, a child psychologist or a clinical geneticist.

What symptoms do people with FASD have?

Symptoms may be cognitive, behavioural, or both. The most frequent are problems with memory, comprehension, adaptation and emotional management. Not all people affected by FASD have the same symptoms or the same level of impairment. 

Why is a diagnosis so important?

It allows you to understand what is happening, and helps any intervention, for example psychological intervention, to be adapted. 

What can parents do to help their children?

It is necessary to seek professional support (from a psychologist, a psychiatrist, etc.), not only for the child but also for the family.

Is everything that happens due to having FASD?

No. Prenatal exposure to alcohol causes obvious brain damage, but in adopted children, neglect must also be taken into account, as this also causes developmental disorders of the nervous system.

I have read that when children with FASD grow up, they have a lot of problems with integration. They end up living on the streets or in prison, and they have substance abuse issues. I am very scared about my child’s future.

It is true that FASD is a chronic condition and if undiagnosed and untreated, the impairments it causes can lead to secondary disabilities in adult life: academic failure, mental health problems, legal problems, institutionalisation, inappropriate sexual behaviour, substance abuse, situations of disability, dependency and unemployment. But the prognosis improves significantly when early and targeted symptomatic and adaptive interventions are employed. Early diagnosis improves the quality of life of those affected and of their families, by reducing secondary disabilities. 

Is FASD considered a disability? Is it in my child's interest to apply for disability if they are still a minor? What if they are of legal age?

FASD can cause disability. It is advisable to apply for a disability in all cases, even for those who are of legal age.

How is FASD diagnosed? Why is it so difficult to get a diagnosis?

Diagnosis is based on internationally established clinical criteria. Fulfilling these criteria (all or part of them) allows each case to be classified within the FASD: full FAS, partial FAS, ARND, ARBD, or not FASD. 

I just found out that I’m pregnant. Now I have stopped drinking alcohol, but I drank in the first weeks of my pregnancy, before I was aware of it. What should I do now?

The most important thing is to stop drinking alcohol completely after finding out you are pregnant. It is never too late to stop drinking. The foetus’ brain develops throughout pregnancy, which means that the sooner you stop drinking alcohol, the safer it will be for you and your baby. If you drank any amount of alcohol while you were pregnant, talk to your doctor about your concerns. Make sure you have regular prenatal check-ups

What counts as a ‘drink’? What if I only drink beer, or fruity drinks containing alcohol such as cider?

Drinking any type of alcohol while pregnant can affect the baby's growth and development, and could lead to FASD. This includes all types of wine, beer and mixed drinks. No type of alcohol is safe. If you have any questions about the alcohol you consume and the health risks associated with it, talk to your doctor. 

Is it okay to drink a small amount of alcohol, or to drink at certain times during pregnancy?

There is no safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed while you are pregnant, or when you want to become pregnant. Nor is there any safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol can cause your unborn baby problems at any point during your pregnancy, even before you know you are pregnant. If you do not drink any alcohol during pregnancy, you can be sure that your baby does not have FASD.

I drank wine during my last pregnancy and my baby didn't have any problems. Why shouldn't I drink during this pregnancy?

Each pregnancy is different. Drinking alcohol may affect one baby more than another. You may have one healthy child, and another who is born with problems.

Does drinking alcohol during pregnancy mean my baby will definitely have FASD?

If you drank any amount of alcohol while you were pregnant, tell your doctor. Even if your child is not affected now, children with FASD may have a range of physical and mental disabilities that become easier to identify once the child attends school. There is no amount of alcohol that is considered safe to consume during pregnancy.

Can I drink alcohol if I am trying to get pregnant?

You could be pregnant and not yet be aware. You probably won't know you are pregnant until 4 to 6 weeks into the pregnancy. This means that you could have consumed alcohol and inadvertently exposed your baby. Consuming alcohol during pregnancy can also cause miscarriage and stillbirth. The best advice is to stop drinking alcohol three months before you begin trying to get pregnant.

If a woman has foetal alcohol spectrum disorder but does not drink alcohol during her pregnancy, can her baby get foetal alcohol spectrum disorder? Are foetal alcohol spectrum disorders inherited?

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are neither genetic nor inherited. If a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, her baby may be born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. But if a woman has foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, this does not mean her own baby will too, unless she consumes alcohol during pregnancy.

Can the baby be affected by the father consuming alcohol?

Studies are currently be conducted to determine how alcohol affects male sperm. The effects are not classified as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASD is specifically caused by the mother consuming alcohol during pregnancy. However, the father or the mother’s partner plays an important role. They can help women to avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Substantiated information by:

Marta Astals Vizcaíno
Oscar García Algar

Published: 25 August 2021
Updated: 10 September 2021

The donations that can be done through this webpage are exclusively for the benefit of Hospital Clínic of Barcelona through Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica and not for BBVA Foundation, entity that collaborates with the project of PortalClínic.


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