Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a birth defect caused by heavy consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. Damage to the fetus includes facial deformities, poor growth (weight, length and head circumference), and impairment of the central nervous system. Drinking that occurs in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy poses the most risk, but alcohol consumption at any stage of pregnancy can be harmful.

Children with FAS can struggle with cognitive and behavioral difficulties such as poor memory and comprehension, as well as hyperactivity and aggressiveness.
Infants with FAS can struggle to reach nutrition and growth goals for several reasons including:

  • A poor or weak suck
    • infant struggles to suck milk or formula through a bottle nipple
  • Overall irritability
    • infant “fights” feedings or poses other mealtime challenges
  • Failure-to-thrive
    • low weight, length or weight-for-length

If an infant has failure-to-thrive, more calories are needed to stimulate catch-up growth. If the child also struggles with a weak suck or irritability, it can be difficult to meet calorie needs in order to stimulate desired growth.

If an infant or toddler with FAS has any of the above nutrition-related difficulties, a comprehensive feeding team can be helpful. Feeding teams consist of a doctor, nurse, dietitian, and a speech and/or occupational therapist that specialize in feeding therapy. The team can help address medical and behavioral needs and create a plan to help the child develop and grow to the best of his or her abilities.

For some children, catch-up growth can be achieved through using high calorie infant or toddler formulas as well as by adding calories to baby foods. Sometimes it is necessary for a child to receive tube feedings to stimulate appropriate weight gain and growth.

Children with FAS many continue to struggle with growth for a lifetime. With good intervention, a normal weight-for-length in infants (or Body Mass Index in children and adults) can be achieved. However, children may continue to have a low length-for-age and small head size well into adulthood.

Learn more: