Fetal Effects

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the leading known preventable cause of mental retardation. FAS is defined by maternal drinking during pregnancy, growth retardation, a pattern of facial abnormalities, and brain damage characterized by intellectual difficulties or behavioral problems (Stratton, Howe, & Battaglia, 1996). The fetus is most vulnerable to alcohol during the first trimester. Facial abnormalities are characterized by a thin upper lip, absence of a philtrum, midfacial hypoplasia, and short palpetral fissures. Behavioral and intellectual problems include difficulty in shifting attention, slower reaction time, poorer memory, language problems, and deficits in executive functions such as planning and organization (Olson, Feldman, Streissguth, Sampson, & Bookstein, 1998).

No safe limit of alcohol use has been determined, but infants born to women who drink more than 150 grams of alcohol per day during pregnancy have a 33% chance of having FAS (Greenfield, Weiss, & Mirin, 1997). About 3.1 per 1,000 first-grade students may show evidence of FAS in the United States (Clarren, Randels, Sanderson, & Fineman, 2001).

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