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JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page
August 2017

Prenatal Alcohol Exposure: No Safe Amount

JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(8):820. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.1093

Prenatal alcohol exposure is important for every mother to consider. Many women know that it is important to avoid alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy, but there are some myths that suggest that drinking a small amount of alcohol in the second or third trimester is okay. No amount of alcohol use is safe at any time during pregnancy. Prenatal alcohol exposure represents a preventable cause of developmental and health problems for children.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) describes the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. It is estimated that FASD may affect 3% to 5% of children, but many cases of FASD are undiagnosed. There are many effects of alcohol on the developing fetus. Cognitive impairment includes irreversible brain damage. Children exposed to alcohol when their mother was pregnant often have learning difficulties, such as poor memory, speech impairments, and behavioral problems like hyperactivity. Growth abnormalities associated with alcohol exposure include growth deficiencies (eg, children having a height or weight under the 10th percentile for their age), a smaller brain, and difficulty with coordination. Children exposed to alcohol often have similarities in their facial appearance, such as small eyes, a thin upper lip, and a smooth area between their nose and upper lip.