When to evaluate a child for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)

Although you risk harming your fetus if you drink any alcohol while you are pregnant, the effects range from mild to severe. It is important to have or find a doctor with whom you can talk openly about your alcohol drinking habits during pregnancy. Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about your child being affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Consider having your child evaluated for FASD if he or she:

  • Has the characteristic facial features of FASD—a small face, narrow eye openings, a short upturned nose, and a flattened groove between the nose and the upper lip.
  • Is not growing and developing as expected. For example, your child may have developmental delays, such as using fewer than expected words for his or her age, or he or she may be a lot smaller than other children of the same age.
  • Is having difficulty learning and getting along with others. A thorough evaluation to rule out other conditions that may be causing the difficulties needs to be done before fetal alcohol exposure can be confirmed as the cause of your child's difficulties.

The effects of alcohol on a fetus are more likely to be severe if you drank heavily while you were pregnant (5 or more drinks on one occasion). Severe problems caused by alcohol exposure are called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). If you have a history of heavy drinking during pregnancy, a thorough developmental evaluation of your baby should be done when he or she is about 18 months old, including hearing, speech, and language testing.

Last Updated: March 17, 2009

Author: Debby Golonka, MPH

Medical Review: Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics & William Gilbert, MD - Perinatology

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