What is Foetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a developmental disorder, characterised by a specific pattern of physical and mental birth deficiencies. This disorder is caused by alcohol consumption by pregnant mothers.

Symptoms of FAS:

Facial features such as small eye openings, a thin upper lip, and a smooth philtrum (the groove between nose and upper lip).

Poor growth. Newborn babies with FAS may have low birth weights and small head sizes. They may not grow or gain weight as well as other children and may be short as adults.

Birth defects. Babies and children with FAS may have heart, bone, and kidney problems, as well as bad eyesight and hearing loss.

Seizures and other neurological problems, for example poor balance and coordination.

Delayed development. Children may not reach developmental milestones at the expected time.

Behavioral problems. FAS babies may be fussy or jittery, and have trouble sleeping. Older children and teens may have a lack of coordination and poor fine motor skills, poor social skills, varying degrees of intellectual disablties, behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, poor attention and concentration, stubbornness, impulsiveness, and anxiety

How does FAS affect young people? 

According to the World Health Organisation, 35% of SA high school learners are problem drinkers– meaning they consume alcohol during school or study time – and one in four practices binge-drinking

Not only does South Africa have very high alcohol consumption rates, we are also the country with the highest rate of FAS in the world. FAS is completely avoidable if the mother does not drink during pregnancy, and this is why it is so important that young women are educated about the dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Can FAS be treated?

The mental and physical damaged caused by FAS is irreversible, and there is no cure. But there are many things can be done to help a child born with FAS reach their full potential, especially when the condition is diagnosed early on.

Children can benefit from services such as:

  • speech-language, occupational, and physical therapy
  • special education services
  • adult classes that help parents and other caregivers handle problem behaviours
  • classes that teach children social skills
  • counseling with a mental health professional

Doctors may also prescribe medicines to help with some of the mental health problems sometimes associated with FAS, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, aggressive behaviour, sleep problems, and anxiety.