Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Alcohol and Pregnancy Don't Mix

Image from SAMHSA for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders awareness

The U.S. Surgeon General advises pregnant women and women who are considering becoming pregnant to abstain from alcohol consumption to eliminate alcohol-exposed pregnancies, yet it is estimated that 40,000 babies are born each year with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual who was exposed to alcohol before birth.


During pregnancy, a developing baby is exposed to the same concentration of alcohol as the pregnant woman. No amount of alcohol use is known to be safe for a developing baby before birth. Exposure to alcohol from any type of beverage, including beer and wine, is unsafe for developing babies at every stage of pregnancy. FASDs are completely preventable if a developing baby is not exposed to alcohol before birth.

Impact on Babies

FASDs can impact a child’s physical, mental, behavioral, or cognitive development. The most visible condition along the continuum of FASDs, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), is characterized by growth deficiencies, central nervous system disabilities, and specific facial characteristics. The number of children born with FAS alone is comparable to spina bifida or Down syndrome.

Studies show that up to 1 in 20 U.S. schoolchildren may be on the FASD spectrum, a rate that is comparable to autism.

Prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities.

Completely Preventable

To prevent FASDs make a plan for a healthy baby - don’t drink any alcohol if you are pregnant or could become pregnant. A woman often does not know she is pregnant for up to four to six weeks after conception. In the U.S., nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned. If you become pregnant, stop drinking alcohol. Every day matters. Because brain growth takes place throughout pregnancy, the sooner a woman stops drinking the safer it will be for her and her baby.

Women in Wisconsin who are between the ages of 18 and 44 binge drink and drink more heavily than women in the rest of the U.S. Two out of three women in Wisconsin who recently had a baby reported they drank in the three months before pregnancy, and about one in 12 reported drinking in the last three months of pregnancy.

Support is Available

Pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant should talk with their obstetrician, pediatrician, nurses, and other health care providers to understand the risks of alcohol use and to make the best choices for the health of their baby. In Wisconsin, pregnant women are given priority in substance use treatment admissions. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to find a local treatment center.

Last Revised: December 28, 2017