Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

​​English | Español | Tiếng Việt 

A pregnant woman saying no to a glass of wine.

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the term for a group of lifelong impairments that can occur in a person who was exposed to alcohol before birth.[1]

What are the causes of FASD?

FASD is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy, when alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. Even before the mother knows she is pregnant, drinking alcohol could cause FASD. There is no known safe amount of alcohol or safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy, while trying to get pregnant, or while breastfeeding. All types of alcohol could be harmful, including wines and beer.[2]

How does alcohol pass from a pregnant mother to the baby in the womb?
How much alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy?


FASD Signs and Symptoms

What are common signs and symptoms of FASD?

FASDs include lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. The conditions of FASD affect each person differently and may be mild for some people and severe for others. Some common signs and symptoms of FASD include:[2]

  • Hyperactivity
  • Mood disorders
  • Hyper or hyposensitivity to light, sound, texture
  • Difficulty with attention 
  • Difficulty in school 
  • Poor memory 
  • Poor reasoning and judgment 
  • Intellectual disability or low IQ (although most have IQ in the normal range)
  • Learning disabilities 
  • Poor coordination 
  • Vision or hearing problems 
  • Problems with the heart, kidneys, or skeletal system
  • Low body weight 
  • Abnormal facial features: smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip, small eyes, thin upper lip (This is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome [FAS] and is present in fewer than 10% of people who have a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.)
  • Functioning is often at a much younger age than chronological.
How can a mother’s drinking during pregnancy affect the growth of her baby?
How can a mother’s drinking during pregnancy affect her child’s appearance?
How can a mother’s drinking affect her baby’s brain development?
How does a mother’s drinking later in pregnancy affect her baby’s brain development?


How can I prevent FASD?

To prevent FASD, a woman should avoid drinking alcohol if she is pregnant or might be pregnant. A woman could be pregnant and not know for four to six weeks. It is never too late to stop alcohol use during pregnancy. 

What's the best thing to do if a woman has been drinking and finds out she's pregnant?


Free or low-cost alcohol and substance use treatment services are available. Contact your insurance carrier, primary care provider, or the following County of Santa Clara services:



Diagnosis and treatments for FASD

Diagnosis of FASD requires documentation of severe impairments in at least three areas of functioning, exposure to alcohol, and rule-out of other explanation for these impairments. Testing is done to determine performance in the areas of concern. Facial features may be measured to see if Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is present, in which case alcohol documentation is not needed. Diagnostic testing is usually done by a team, but if recent previous test results are available this is not necessary.

There is no cure for the alcohol-affected brain damage of FASD, but there are treatment and supports that can help. Some examples include medication to help with some symptoms, medical care for health problems, FASD-informed behavior and education therapy, and parental support and trainings. An essential element of treatment for FASD focuses on helping the caregiver understand and address the disability. Good FASD treatment plans are specific to the child’s challenges, build on their strengths, and tailored to their unique needs. Typically, those treatment plans are composed of close monitoring, follow-ups, and changes to medication, diet, or routine as needed. 

There are protective factors that can help reduce the effects of FASDs, allowing those affected to be able to reach their full potential. Those protective factors include:

  • Early diagnosis – before the age of 6 years
  • Absence of violence around them 
  • Involvement in special education and social services
  • A loving, nurturing, and stable home environment
  • Full understanding by the family and any other caregivers of the disability itself.


FASD Resources

Santa Clara County Resources

FASD Diagnosis – Services to diagnose FASD for children ages 0-17 are available by referral at three County of Santa Clara Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics Clinics: Valley Health Center (VHC) Bascom, VHC Downtown, and VHC Gilroy.
Referrals for diagnosis must be made by the child’s pediatrician or primary care provider. For more information call the clinic main line at (408) 885-7709.

Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services Department

First 5 of Santa Clara County Health Screenings

What is FASD? (video)

FASD Toolkit

NotEven1 - FASD Flyer

NotEven1 - FASD Postcard

NotEven1 - FASD Poster

Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Parenting

Mothers Milk Bank

Consuming Substances While Pregnant

General FASD Information

CDC – FASD – Basics about FASDs 

CDC – FASD – Data & Statistics

Know FASD – Lifespan Neurobehavioral Difficulties 

FASD treatments and living with FASD

CDC – FASD – Treatments 

NOFAS – Living with FASD

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4959594/
[2] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/facts.html


©2023 County of Santa Clara. All rights reserved.