The phenomenon is old, the term is still relatively young: Only in 1973 named the American scientists David Smith and Ken Jones (Seattle USA) the permanent damage caused by alcohol abuse during pregnancy by the name: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Several thousand alcohol-damaged babies are estimated to be born in Germany every year. They all suffer from the fact that their mothers drank alcohol excessively, permanently and often pathologically during pregnancy. How severe each baby's disability is depends on how much alcohol the mother consumed during pregnancy and how her body processed the pollutant.
Heaviest disabilities in alcohol-damaged babies
Alcohol use during pregnancy is considered the most common cause of congenital, delayed mental development in children. It must be stressed again and again that these damages are not genetic and could be completely avoided.
In an alcohol-dependent pregnant woman, the risk of a physical malformation or mental disorder of the newborn is 32 to 43 percent. But even occasional alcohol consumption during pregnancy is dangerous for the unborn child. There is no limit value below which no impairment of the newborn is to be feared!
What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or alcohol embryopathy is a serious brain injury in newborns, the cause of which is always alcohol abuse of the mother during pregnancy. Irreversible consequences are mental disabilities and physical developmental delays of these children. An estimated 4, 000 children are born in Germany each year with such a form of alcohol embryopathy - experts fear that this is a conservative estimate.
If the organ formation of the baby at the time of alcohol abuse is already complete, it usually comes to only a few externally visible symptoms, although the consequences for the central nervous system are often no less serious. In such cases one speaks of fetal alcohol effects (FAE).
Internationally, medics now use the term FASD - Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder - and make it clear that all forms of inborn alcohol damage require special attention. It is estimated that the number of children born every year in Germany with such different levels of alcohol spectrum disorders is 10, 000, although the number of unreported cases is probably much higher.
Alcohol during pregnancy: Follow
That alcohol is a cytotoxin has long been known and scientifically proven. Especially embryos are particularly sensitive to alcohol in the period of organ development and education.
The embryonic cells can not sufficiently develop and multiply, causing organs and tissues to develop deficient or defective. This can affect all organs and organ systems of the embryo, even though FAS children, in addition to intellectual developmental delays and behavioral disorders, are particularly likely to suffer from dwarfism, underweight and adolescence.
FAS - difficult diagnosis
If the mother's alcohol dependence is known, the diagnosis of FAS is usually easy. It becomes more complicated in the children, who show little externally pronounced symptoms.
The changes can be so small in the child that the parents do not notice a difference to the healthy child. The physical damage can be very different from disorders in brain performance and behavioral disorders.
The manifestations are so very different and often lead to misdiagnosis, also because many doctors do not have enough experience with the different symptoms of the disease.
Common symptoms of FAS
These are common symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome:
- Typical physical signs include being underweight, short stature, small-headedness and poor muscle development.
- It can lead to typical facial changes in which the children have, among other small eyes and narrow upper lips.
- FAS children are often fed with probes as infants.
- The disease also gives them a pronounced hypersensitivity of the skin that makes any touch painful.
- Motor skills and sensitivity of the mouth are not sufficiently pronounced. This affects swallowing and speech development, because the muscles of the mouth do not work properly and sounds can not be formed.
- Cognitive developmental delays and behavioral disorders are also typical symptoms.
Massive everyday problems
Caring for a FAS baby is complex and stressful. Often, they have to be cared for around the clock. Sleep and recovery periods for parents and caregivers are rare and usually only possible with high organizational effort.
In many cases, FAS children are not raised by their biological parents - but for all parents, the emotional abnormalities of their protégés are particularly distressing. Children with FAS suffer from mental developmental disorders that severely hamper them at school, in their social maturation and lifestyle:
- These children usually learn slowly and can not keep what they have learned.
- Their ability to concentrate is severely limited, they are easily distracted and can not perform even simple jobs or only with great difficulty.
- Many of the affected children are unable to assess the consequences and risks of their actions and repeatedly unknowingly expose themselves to significant dangers, such as when playing games, in traffic or when dealing with other people.
- Punishments or bad experiences leave no lasting mark on them.
- Often FAS children and adolescents are much naïve and gullible than their peers; especially at puberty they often run the risk of being exploited.
Permanent damage by FAS
While the external signs of alcohol embryopathy are lost with age, the mental impairment remains unrestricted. Neither the disease nor its consequences can be eliminated or corrected.
The physical and mental limitations that FAS children suffer can, at best, be mitigated with appropriate treatments. These include, for example:
- speech therapy
- occupational Therapy
- curative educational approaches
There is no drug that can reverse the effects of maternal alcohol abuse during pregnancy.
Day of the alcohol-damaged child
Against this background, there is an annual FAS day, which draws attention to the fate of FAS children every year on 9 September and is intended to remedy information deficits among the population, the medical profession, social workers and caregivers through educational campaigns.
The international FAS Day, which was originally launched in Canada, is supported in Germany by the self-help group FASworld Germany and medical experts.