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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Essay, Research Paper

What can happen to a fetus when a pregnant women drinks heavily during her pregnancy?

It can lead to permanent, irreversible and incurable effects that will bring a lifetime of pain for

both the child and the family. These permanent and unchangeable effects arise from a fetus

attaining fetal alcohol syndrome from its mother. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a pattern of

malformations and disabilities resulting from a pregnant woman drinking heavily during her

pregnancy. FAS is unique in that effects on the children are directly linked to maternal drinking

habits. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is currently the leading cause of mental retardation in the United

States. A baby with FAS can suffer from mental retardation, central nervous dysfunction, organ

dysfunction, facial abnormalities and many other effects. At least 5,000 to 10000 infants are born

each year in America with FAS. There is a little less then a 50% chance that the new born child,

whose mother drank heavily during pregnancy, will be born with FAS. Even if the child is not

born with FAS, there is a better then 50% chance that the child will have many Fetal Alcohol

Effects (FAE) from maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy (Berhow 364). Each infant

that is born with FAS is a large financial burden. The institutional and medical costs for one child

with FAS is an average of over a million dollars during the child?s lifetime. Whatever the mother

drinks while she is pregnant, the child inside her is drinking. If the mother gets drunk from

consuming to much alcohol so will her child. A mother?s high risk behavior during pregnancy

effects the child more then it might effect her. But FAS is a syndrome that is 100% preventable.

The only way to prevent FAS is for a pregnant woman to abstain from drinking alcohol during her

entire pregnancy.

?In a broad sense FAS may be viewed as a repercussion of an external environmental

influence on the internal physiological environment of the developing fetus? (Caleekal). What a

mother does to herself externally has an immediate impact on the fetus which lies inside her. If a

pregnant woman drinks wine, beer, or any liquor when she is pregnant, her baby could develop

FAS, its that simple. The disabilities which stem from FAS will last a lifetime. No amount of

alcohol has been proven safe to consume during pregnancy. Heavy drinking on a consistent basis

or binge drinking on an occasional basis can produce FAS. A combination of factors determines

whether the exposed child will be afflicted with FAS. ?FAS is not necessarily the result of only

full-blown alcoholism but rather it can result from drinking any amount of alcohol in excess of the

level to detoxify it thus placing the fetus at risk? (Caleekal). A mother?s nutritional status and

physical well-being might also play roles of varying significance in determining whether an infant

is affected, and to what degree, by the prenatal exposure to alcohol (Berhow 364). The most

common effects seen is an increase in miscarriages. Babies can also be born at a low birth weight,

birth length, and with a small heads resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure. There are many

different factors that can produce birth defects from FAS. Agent (alcohol, crack, heroin) Dosage

(how much is used), Timing of Exposure (when is it used?), individual factors of mother and

child, genetic factors, nutritional factors, metabolic factors are what birth defects are dependent

on (Berhow 364).

FAS is characterized by three symptoms which affect different areas. The three areas

affected are; prenatal and/or postnatal growth retardation, Central Nervous System (CNS) and

head and facial abnormalities (Wynbrandt 208). With prenatal and postnatal growth retardation,

infants are born weighing less the average newborn and are shorter in length. The central nervous

system is composed of the brain and spinal cord. The nervous system develops in the first 8

weeks of child birth, making the most damaging effects result in this period. Damage to this area

is displayed through mental retardation and severe learning disabilities. Head and facial

abnormalities, facial deformities such as a thin upper lip, absence of a groove between the nose

and upper lip and small eye openings. The teeth of individuals with FAS are often misshapen and

misplaced. Children with FAS are short and thin, with unusually small heads. They grow slowly

and their appetite is poor. Many also have malformed hearts, kidneys, and urinary tracts, poor

muscle tone or joint articulation, abnormal curvature of the spine, limited hip motion,

undescended testicles, undeveloped fingerprints, and other physical defects (Clayman 423)

Here is what a child with FAS typically looks like:

Other mental, emotional, and behavior disturbances almost always accompany retardation

n FAS children. At birth they suffer an alcohol withdrawal reaction, which may include epileptic

seizures; seizures and unusual brain electrical activity often persist into adulthood. As infants,

they are jittery and have an abnormal sucking reflex. Their sleep is disturbed and their physical

coordination is poor. They have slow reaction times and short attention spans. They find it

difficult to distinguish colors, remember names, or tell time. Their speech tends to be poorly

articulated syntactically simple, and low in content (Long).

When a pregnant women drinks alcohol, her baby does too. The alcohol that the pregnant

woman drinks goes directly to the developing baby at the same level of concentration. If the

mothers blood alcohol level is 0.2, so is the baby?s blood alcohol level (Tierney 343). However,

mom is much bigger and highly more developed then the fetus. Her mature liver acts to detoxify

the alcohol. On the other hand, the fetus is incredibly smaller. Its liver is not yet mature.

Therefore, while mom might stay drunk for several hours, the developing fetus can stay drunk for

three to four days. If a mother drinks heavily during pregnancy, the fetus? fetal blood alcohol level

becomes very high and stays that way for a long period of time (Tierney 343).

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and its effects do not go away. Once the brain is damaged, it is

permanently impaired. The health care costs for individuals with FAS can be staggering. The

emotional burden on the family and child can be staggering as well (Berhow 366). Dr. Rizwan

Shah, Director of the Family Ecology Center in Des Moines, Iowa, estimated that in 1994 the

lifetime cost of each child born with FAS was 2.4 million dollars (Caleekal). Special facilities and

special education can prove to be extremely costly. Unfortunately, alcohol affected children are

often born into families in which addictions are a fact of life. Many children with FAS are

abandoned or put up for adoption.

Children with FAS will often show impulsivity issues at a young age, before and in

kindergarten, especially in situations in which the activity level is high. Children with FAS may

have difficulty with social skills and may struggle with learning the ?social rules of play? with

other children (Caleekal). By seven years of age they usually begin to show learning difficulties,

especially in verbal, written and memory. Behavioral problems become more pronounced as the

child becomes increasingly frustrated with his inability to learn and the perceived injustice of

discipline, failure and blame. Their frustration turns to anger as thet grow older. The life a child

and an adult is not easy. Between the ages of 12 to 51, they begin to show aggression. Between

the ages of 12 and 51, ?95% have mental health problems, 68% will have trouble with the law,

55% will be confined in prison, drug/alcohol treatment center, mental institution, 68% have

disrupted school experience and 52% exhibit inappropriate sexual behavior? (Clayman 424).

The treatment of children with FAS or FAE is a complicated, long-term project that

resembles the treatment of other retarded children. If the impairment is severe enough, federal law

guarantees them special education, vocational training, physical, occupational, and speech

therapy, medical treatment and other services. The natural parents of FAS children are often

unable to care for them, so they may have to be placed in foster care, group homes, or institutions

(Long). Raising children with FAS requires much patience. They need clear and consistent limits

on their behavior with immediate consequences for breaking rules. They must be taught skills like

shopping, riding a bus, doing the laundry, making decisions and things needed to do for everyday

life. With tutoring, many can learn to read and spell at an elementary level. They must be

constantly monitored and reminded about what to do and they must be exposed to much failure

because of their low self-esteem (Long).

There is good news about FAS, it is 100% preventable. The easiest way to prevent FAS

is for the mother to not drink any alcohol during her pregnancy. People need to know what

drinking during pregnancy can do to a developing fetus and the lifelong impact that it can have on

a child. The more education there is about FAS the less prevalence of it we will be exposed to.

There needs to be more worldwide information so others will not make these irreversible

decisions. FAS lasts a lifetime. It is costly and a heavy burden on whoever takes care of a FAS

child. It also shows the mother is irresponsible when the child is diagnosed with FAS. How

could anyone want to harm their unborn child? At least 7000 babies are born with FAS each year

in the United Sates, from irresponsible mothers who had one to many drinks during their

pregnancy. Many of these mothers are unknowingly damagi

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