“Of all the substances of abuse, including heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, alcohol produces by far the most serious neuro-behavioral effects in the fetus.” -Institute of Medicine 1996 Report to Congress Fetal alcohol exposure is the leading cause of mental retardation in the Western World. The prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in the U.S. is estimated to be 0.2 to 2.0 cases for every 1,000 live births. Common characteristics and behavioral traits are associated with the disease. Physical characteristics include three major features: a thin upper lip, a smooth, flattened area and lack of groove between the nose and upper lip, and small eye openings. These characteristics are all due to alcohol affecting the brain tissue; at the early stage of fetal development, the eyes and face are all an extension of the brain. The primary effect of women drinking during pregnancy is permanent central nervous system damage to the fetus, especially to the brain. Brain cells do not develop properly when exposed to alcohol, and this can create an array of functional and mental disabilities in the child. These can include but are not limited to impaired motor development and functioning, learning disabilities, language disorders, social communication problems, and poor attention/concentration skills. The only way to eliminate the problem of FAS is to not drink during pregnancy. Many women don’t stop drinking until they’re confirmed to be pregnant, and this can be problematic since many FAS problems can start very early on in the pregnancy. Because of this, women who are trying to become pregnant or who think they could be pregnant should not drink. If you’re a woman who has problems with drinking and you plan on becoming pregnant, pleaseseek help for your alcohol use before deciding to have a child. A drug and alcohol treatment center may help. Don’t let your drinking create a whole new set of problems for your baby. For more information about drug and alcohol treatment, please visit The Right Step today!