Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (cont.)

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How much alcohol is safe during pregnancy?

Two approaches can be taken to this important question. One is the rigorously scientific approach. It does not go beyond the facts: that most children diagnosed with frank FAS have had overtly alcoholic mothers (who drank at least eight to 10 drinks a day); that children born to women who had four to six drinks a day have had subtle signs of FAS/FAE; that at two drinks a day, the only indisputable effect noted has been subtly lower birth weight; and that below two drinks a day there is no concrete evidence for an effect on the fetus. Thus, from a strictly scientific viewpoint, one cannot say that one drink a day during pregnancy is dangerous to the baby.

The more common approach, and the favored one, is the better-safe-than-sorry approach. This pragmatic position is espoused by public-health experts. Witness the warning label on all alcoholic beverages in the U.S. indicating that "according to the surgeon general, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects." This conservative approach is also followed by most individuals and groups concerned with preventing FAS/FAE. For example, the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome states, "No amount of alcohol has been proven safe to consume during pregnancy. FAS and FAE...are 100% preventable when a pregnant woman abstains from alcohol."

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome At A Glance

  • Alcohol is capable of causing birth defects.
  • FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome) always involves brain damage.
  • FAS always involves impaired growth.
  • FAS always involves head and face abnormalities.
  • No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy.
  • Women who are or may become pregnant are advised to avoid alcohol.


American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Substance Abuse and Committee on Children With Disabilities. "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Alcohol-Related Neuro-developmental Disorders." Pediatrics 106.2.1 Aug. 2000: 358-361.

Dorris, Michael. The Broken Cord. New York: Harper Collins, 1990.

Floyd, R.L., et al. "Prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders." Dev Disabil Res Rev. 15.3 (2009): 193-199.

Last Editorial Review: 12/21/2010

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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - Signs and Symptoms Question: Do you know someone affected by fetal alcohol syndrome? What were the first symptoms and signs of the condition?
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - Other Problems Question: What problems (for example, eye, ear, teeth, hearing) has the child you know with fetal alcohol syndrome encountered?
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - Drinking While Pregnant Question: Did you or your mother drink during pregnancy? Please discuss any concerns, including the outcome.