Globally, South Africa has the highest prevalence of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a collection of physical, behavioural and learning disorders that can arise when women consume alcohol during pregnancy.
This is according to research conducted by Affinity Health, a medical health insurance provider.
According to the research, the nationwide prevalence of FASD in South Africa ranges from 29 to 290 per 1 000 live births. Research further revealed that there is no safe amount of alcohol and no safe period to consume during pregnancy that will not result in FASD.
The effect of alcohol consumption during pregnancy
When alcohol enters the circulation of a pregnant woman, it is transported straight to the developing tissues of the foetus via the placental tissue that separates the mother’s and baby’s blood systems. That implies that when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, so does the foetus.
The alcohol is absorbed by the foetus and causes irreparable brain damage. This brain injury eventually leads to behavioural abnormalities. The adverse effects of alcohol can cause harm to the foetus at any time of pregnancy.
Signs and symptoms of FASD in babies
Some children experience the symptoms of FASD to a far greater degree than others.
The signs and symptoms of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) may include any combination of physical deformities, intellectual or cognitive impairments, and difficulties with daily functioning and coping.
Babies born with FASD may present the following physical symptoms:
- distinctive facial characteristics, including small eyes; an unusually thin upper lip; a short, upturned nose; as well as a smooth skin surface between the nose and the top lip;
- disfigurement of the joints, limbs and fingers;
- low body weight;
- short height;
- sleep and sucking difficulties;
- small head size;
- vision or hearing problems; and
- disorders of the heart, kidneys and bones.
Non-physical symptoms can include:
- poor coordination;
- hyperactive conduct;
- attentional difficulties;
- poor memory;
- academic challenges (especially with mathematics);
- learning disabilities;
- language and speech delays;
- mpeded mental development or a low IQ; and
- poor reasoning and judgement skills.
Where to get help
Consult a family health-care provider and a developmental paediatrician, child psychologist, or clinical geneticist, specially trained to diagnose and treat children with FASDs.