Fetal Alcohol Syndrome



Alcohol can cross from the pregnant person's blood to the baby's blood. Even a small amount of any type can harm a growing baby.

Blood Traveling Through Mother's Placenta to Baby
baby fetus placenta
Alcohol travels through this path and affects the baby's development, particularly the heart and brain.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Things that raise a baby's chance of FAS are:

  • Unplanned pregnancy or drinking when a person does not yet know they are pregnant
  • Alcohol use disorder in the mother



Birth and growth problems depend on when the exposure happened and how much was consumed.

Babies with FAS may have:

  • Low birth weight
  • Small size and slowed growth
  • Small head
  • Small eyes
  • Short, flat nose
  • Flat cheeks
  • Small jaws
  • Misshapen ears
  • Thin upper lip
  • Shaking
  • Sight and hearing problems

As the infant grows, other symptoms may happen, such as:

  • Problems eating and sleeping
  • Delayed speech
  • Learning problems
  • Poor coordination
  • Behavior problems
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Problems getting along with other children

Children do not outgrow these problems. Teens and adults often have:

  • Problems at school
  • Problems keeping a job
  • Trouble living on their own
  • Mental health problems
  • Alcohol or substance abuse disorder
  • Anxiety problems
  • Anger problems
  • Legal problems


The doctor will ask about alcohol use while pregnant. You will also be asked about your child's symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.



There is no cure. The goal is to manage symptoms. Choices are:

  • Social services to teach parents how to care for and support a child with special needs
  • Special education services to help with learning


The risk of this problem can be lowered by not drinking alcohol while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.