Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is a group of birth defects that is only found in babies of mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy. Here are some of the vital questions regarding FASD and the answers:

How is FASD prevented?

  • FASD is prevented if the mother does not drink alcohol during pregnancy.
  • FASD is 100% preventable.  No alcohol for mom during pregnancy then no FASD for baby.
  • FASD is 100% permanent.  The damage done by the alcohol cannot be undone.

The safest choice for your unborn baby is not to drink any alcohol when you are pregnant.

How does alcohol get to the unborn baby?

Everything the mother eats and drinks goes into her stomach and through the bloodstream to the unborn baby in the womb.

How does alcohol harm the unborn baby?

Alcohol damages the unborn baby’s forming body and brain resulting in many types of birth defects.

Will it make a difference if a pregnant woman stops drinking anytime during the pregnancy?

  • It is best to stop drinking alcohol when you are planning to have a baby.
  • Alcohol harms an unborn baby in different ways at different times during the pregnancy.
  • If you stop drinking alcohol at any stage it will make a difference to the baby.

Will the baby get FASD if the mother does not drink alcohol?

The baby willnot get FASD if the mother does not drink alcohol.

Will alcohol always harm the baby?

  • Alcohol can cause damage to the unborn baby even before the woman knows she is pregnant.
  • Alcohol can continue to harm the baby until the baby is born.
  • It is never too late to stop drinking during pregnancy.
  • No amount of alcohol is safe for the unborn baby.

Can all types of alcohol harm the baby?

Yes, any and all types of alcohol can cause birth defects:

Beer, wine, ciders, spirits, alcoholic spirit coolers, shandy, milk stout, vodka, gin, brandy, whisky, sherry – ALL TYPES OF ALCOHOL CAN DO HARM.

Where do you go if you are worried your baby/child has FASD?

Go to the clinic and ask that your child be tested

Who can say if a child has FASD?

Only a specially trained doctor using sophisticated tests can determine if a child has FASD.

What is the role of the man when his female partner is pregnant?

  • Persuade her not to drink
  • Encourage her to go for help if she cannot stop drinking
  • Respect her wish when she decides not to drink
  • Help the pregnant woman to enjoy alcohol free activities
  • Ban alcohol from your house
  • Speak to a man you trust to learn how to be a better husband and father
  • Show solidarity! Give up alcohol for 9 months
  • Celebrate special occasions without alcohol
  • Planning a baby? Ban alcohol

Where do I go for help?

If you need help to control your alcohol intake, drug misuse and smoking then speak to:

  • Local community structures e.g. women’s groups
  • Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Social worker
  • Mental health nurse
  • Places of worship
  • Religious leader

Don’t go it alone.  Seek help.

Do FASD babies develop like normal babies?

  • A FASD baby can be born early before his/her due date.
  • These babies have a low birth weight and are weak and sickly.
  • They are slow in reaching milestones e.g. sitting, walking, and talking.

How does a child with FAS cope at school?

A child with FASD does not cope well at school. They find it difficult to concentrate and have to be taught the same skills many times.  It is important to have a child assessed early so that help can be given.  They have difficulty knowing right from wrong.  FASD children will have physical and intellectual problems their entire lives.

What is International FASD Day?

FASD Day is Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day celebrated every year on 9 September. 

Why are bells rung at 09:09 on 9 September?

Annually at nine minutes past nine on 9 September, people are encouraged to ring bells as part of the International call for each time zone across the world to create awareness and focus attention on the fact that any alcohol drunk by women during the nine months of pregnancy, will affect the unborn baby. 

If you don’t have a bell you can ring door bells, cell phones, jingle keys or stamp your feet – make a noise to spread the FASD message. 

What is the FASD message you must pass on to others?

No alcohol during pregnancy means the unborn baby will not have FASD. 

(FASD Task Team, September 2011) 

More information:

Foetal alcohol syndrome

The FASD Task Team:

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Information Centre (FASIC)

082 5099 530 or

Pebbles Project

072 4722 797 or


FAS Prevention Study

021-938 9345    

Medical Research Council

021-938 0407    

Health Promotion, City of Cape Town

021-938 8239    

Health Promotion (MDHS)

021-483 9915    


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