The manifestation of specific growth, mental, and physical birth defects associated with the mother's high levels of alcohol use during pregnancy. Alcohol use or abuse by the pregnant woman subjects her to the same range of risks that alcohol has in the general population. However, it poses extreme and unique risks to the fetus and is associated with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
Timing of alcohol use during pregnancy is also of importance. Alcohol use during the first trimester is more damaging than during the second trimester, which is, in turn, more damaging than use in the third trimester. Alcohol ingested by a pregnant woman easily passes across the placental barrier to the fetus. Because of this, drinking alcohol can adversely affect the development of the baby.
A pregnant woman who drinks any amount of alcohol is at risk, since a "safe" level of alcohol ingestion during pregnancy has not been established. However, larger amounts appear to cause increased problems. Multiple birth defects associated with "classical" fetal alcohol syndrome are more commonly associated with heavy alcohol use or alcoholism.
Fetal alcohol syndrome consists of the following abnormalities:
* Intrauterine growth retardation: growth deficiency in the fetus and newborn in all parameters (head circumference, weight, height)
* Delayed development with decreased mental functioning (mild to severe)
* Facial abnormalities including small head; small upper jaw; short, up-turned nose; groove in upper lip; smooth and thin upper lip; and narrow, small, and unusual-appearing eyes with prominent epicanthal folds
* Heart defects
* Limb abnormalities of joints, hands, feet, fingers, and toes.