What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a preventable neurodevelopmental condition that can occur in babies who are exposed to alcohol in the womb before birth. The main effects from exposure are to the brain but alcohol can also affect other parts of the body.

It’s estimated that 3-5% of babies in Aotearoa have FASD, which means that every day in Aotearoa, around eight babies are born with the condition. This makes FASD more common than autism, Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy combined.

To avoid the risk of FASD, it's safest not to drink alcohol when you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

Signs your child may have FASD

FASD can range in how it affects your pēpi. Signs of FASD can include:

  • low birth weight
  • distinctive facial features
  • heart defects
  • behavioural problems
  • learning and developmental delays
  • difficulties with social skills
  • intellectual disability.

When to talk to a Plunket nurse or doctor

FASD may be diagnosed at birth, but often the diagnosis occurs later, when the child is having problems with learning or behaviour. Sometimes, the condition may never be diagnosed.

If you drank alcohol while you were pregnant, and have concerns about your child’s development, talk to your Plunket nurse or doctor who may make a referral for your child to be assessed.

This can be a difficult discussion to have, but an accurate diagnosis is important. It can help your child get the support they need.

Managing FASD

FASD cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Help may be available in your area for learning, communication and behaviour issues and for intellectual disabilities.

You can talk to your Plunket nurse, doctor or your child’s teacher about what support is available.

Non-judgmental support and advice plus a range of resources is also available through the registered charity FASD-CAN.

FASD-CAN (Fetal Acohol Spectrum Disorder Care Action Network)


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FASD-CAN Aotearoa New Zealand is a registered charity dedicated to improving the lives of those living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.