Foetal Alcohol Syndrome
Drinking alcohol while pregnant has been associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labour and problems with the way the baby grows and develops in the womb.
A baby exposed to alcohol in the womb is more prone to illness, physical problems, and learning and behavioural disorders. It may have any of the following problems:
- Poor growth while in the womb and after birth, so the baby is shorter and smaller than average, sometimes with deformed limbs.
- Small head and jaw.
- Distinctive facial features, especially: small eyes set far apart, a thin upper lip, a smooth philtrum (ridge that runs below the nose to the top lip).
- Cerebral palsy – a problem in the parts of the brain responsible for controlling muscles, which affects movement and co-ordination.
- Learning disorders – problems with thinking, speech, social skills and/or memory (for example, finding it difficult to translate thinking into saying, or reading into speaking).
- Mood, attention or behavioural problems – for example, autistic-like behaviour, ADHD or sleep problems.
- Problems with the liver, kidneys, heart or other organs.
- Hearing and sight problems.
- A weak immune system.
Some children may only develop mild symptoms, while others may be severely affected.
If children with foetal alcohol syndrome are not diagnosed early and given the support they need, they are likely to face a range of issues in later life. Because of their problems, they may misuse drugs and alcohol and become expelled from school, develop mental health problems, and find it difficult to get a job and live independently as adults.