The U.S. Surgeon General advises pregnant women and women who might become pregnant to abstain from alcohol consumption to eliminate alcohol-exposed pregnancies. It is estimated that 40,000 babies are born each year with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in a person exposed to alcohol before birth.

A growing baby is exposed to the same concentration of alcohol as the mother during pregnancy. No amount of alcohol use is known to be safe for a developing baby before birth. Exposure to alcohol from any type of beverage, including beer and wine, is unsafe for developing babies at every stage of pregnancy. FASDs are completely preventable if a developing baby is not exposed to alcohol before birth.

FASDs can impact a child’s physical, mental, behavioral or cognitive development. The most visible condition along the continuum of FASDs, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), is characterized by growth deficiencies, central nervous system disabilities and specific facial characteristics. The number of children born with FAS alone is comparable to spina bifida or Down syndrome. Prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as a range of lifelong physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities.

To prevent FASDs: make a plan for a healthy baby -- don’t drink any alcohol if you are pregnant or could become pregnant. A woman often does not know she is pregnant for up to four to six weeks after conception. In the United States, nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned. If you become pregnant, stop drinking alcohol. Every day matters. Because brain growth takes place throughout pregnancy, the sooner a woman stops drinking, the safer it will be for her and her baby. If you need help stopping, talk to your doctor, contact an addiction specialist or contact Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Center for Disabilities offers state-of-the-art diagnostic clinics in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, South Dakota, to help diagnose FASD in people of all ages and provide technical assistance to assist with the implementation of clinic recommendations. The diagnosis will allow professionals and families to develop strategies to improve the educational and health outcomes for the person with FASD.

For more information on alcohol use during pregnancy and FASDs, visit the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the University of South Dakota.

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