FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME
|INNOCENT VICTIM | Alcohol can have devastating effects
on an unborn child|
It is well documented that drinking
during pregnancy can have harmful effects on the unborn child. What
is less well known, is that heavy alcohol consumption in pregnancy
can result in the condition known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
It’s Friday night and the bars in Bristol are packed.
Groups of young women gather to socialise over a drink or two or three…
A recent survey indicates that young women are drinking
more than ever before, with weekend binges becoming a regular event. Such
increases in alcohol consumption are undoubtedly damaging women’s health.
Yet John Brooks from Dorset has another reason to worry
about this trend. His adopted son Edward has acute learning and behavioural
difficulties and is tiny for his age.
Edward’s birth mother started drinking at age 14 and eventually
died from liver failure. John believes that alcohol has played a huge
part in Edward’s condition. He believes that Edward was damaged in the
womb by his mother’s drinking. This kind of damage is known as Fetal Alcohol
Syndrome or FAS.
Classical FAS is very rare, occurring in about 0.2%
of births in the USA.
The following symptoms are associated with Fetal
Alcohol Syndrome (FAS):
Low birth weight
Flat face with a snub nose and unusually smooth area between nose
Thin upper lip
Small, widely spaced eyes with prominent folds of skin on the nasal
side of the eye
Specific or general learning difficulties
Hyperactivity and attention problems
FAS is the term used to describe a number of foetal abnormalities
which occur in the babies of women who have abused alcohol during the
course of their pregnancy.
The severity of the abnormality depends on the amount
of alcohol consumed. The damage caused to the baby
during pregnancy is irreversible. The condition is for life.
At present in the UK, there is little knowledge about
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and little, if any, research being done by the
"There are a number of people in the country that aren’t
trained in identifying alcohol related problems and because of that the
children aren’t being diagnosed and therefore not getting help.
We need training for paediatricians, midwives, community
nurses and health visitors," says Dr Moira Plant from the Alcohol and
Health research unit of the West of England.
In Bristol, Dr Plant organises the first UK conference
on the syndrome. Also present is Dr Christine Loock from the University
of British Columbia, Canada, who has been studying and working with FAS
patients and their mothers for many years.
can indicate whether a child suffers from FAS|
A great deal is known about FAS in Canada because the
condition is much more prevalent. In some remote Canadian communities,
as many as one in four children show some form of alcohol damage caused
For Edward’s adoptive father John, it is a vital chance
to learn more about his son’s condition and meet other parents in similar
Whilst John has not yet managed to get Edward’s condition
formally diagnosed, he meets another family in Dorset who have. Bill took
over the care of his grandson Michael after his daughter died from alcoholism.
Securing a diagnosis is a difficult task, made even harder
by the fact that most children with FAS are adopted, making a medical
history difficult to obtain.
"Most children in the UK with fetal alcohol syndrome
are adopted or fostered. In many cases the biological mother denies that
she was ever drinking during pregnancy because of guilt. This makes it
even harder for those foster parents to get a diagnosis for their child."
Matthew Hill, Health Correspondent.
But how would a diagnosis help? John believes that a diagnosis
won’t change Edward’s life, however, "It explains why Edward is like he
is, it explains to others why he is like he is, and in a way, it explains
to Edward why he is like he is."
Christine Loock believes that FAs must be considered in Edward's diagnosis|
In desperation, John turns to Dr Christine Loock. After
studying Edward’s files and watching his behaviour on video, Dr Loock
feels strongly that alcohol damage in the womb must be considered by those
trying to diagnose Edward’s problems. For John, this is a small but significant
"It’s more than we could hope for. She’s going to write
a letter to all those that need to be involved with Edward so that the
best can be done for him," says John.
Back in the Bristol bar a young Mother tells us that when
she was pregnant she drank 8 or 9 pints every weekend night till she was
eight and a half months.
It’s women like this that John wants to reach.
"We’re not just fighting for Edward, we’re fighting for
all the others and to get the message across that binge-drinking alcohol
can harm an unborn child".