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The Negative Effects of Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant


Fetal alcohol syndrome is a disorder in an infant that develops during the pregnancy period of the mother due to exposure to alcohol. Fetal growth complications and brain impairment are some of the eminent effects linked to the condition. Though the difficulties triggered by the syndrome differ from one baby to another, its inherent contracted defects are irreversible. Pregnant mothers ought to know that during the prenatal period, there is no alcohol quantity considered to be safe for consumption as it risks the newborn from contracting fetal alcohol syndrome. Timely diagnosis aids in the moderation of intrinsic problems such as behavioral issues and learning challenges. The paper outlines the domains of child development and the negative effects of alcohol on the fetus. Finally, it discusses the physical and mental impact of fetal alcohol on an individual and how the fetus gets damaged by alcohol.

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Domains of Child Development

Though growth in children occurs as a whole, the grouping of the developmental skills is accomplished by the establishment of diverse domains. Every domain is titled and relates to distinct arrayed skills (Keenan et al., 2016). Developmental disciplines are interrelated and intertwined in such a way that the growth of a child in a particular field affects the evolution in other progressive realms. However, the rating process of change differs across and within the spheres, despite the skills interrelation (Libertus & Hauf, 2017). The growth is often observed in a certain domain predominating over skills in other areas. The main domains of child development discussed below include cognitive development, social/emotional development, and physical development.

Cognitive Development

The domain encompasses the perception, thinking, and understanding of an individual through interaction with the world. Studies indulging in early intellectual growth have shown that developing minds become insightful, active, and competent at a very young age (Keenan et al., 2016). This includes the engagement of infants in spontaneous scrutiny of the consistencies in the perceived communication sounds as they learn to conceptualize a language. The basis for fundamental learning in toddlers is derived from the surrounding individuals’ behavior and engagements with the objects. The elucidation denotes that young children are highly receptive to learnings drawn from the words and actions of other persons.

The capability for collective responsiveness forms a beneficial foundation necessary for humans to accrue cultural knowledge. The children are able to react to cues such as child-oriented speech and eye contact, which transmit the adult communicative premeditations (Libertus & Hauf, 2017). The speech guides become more complex and sensitive when the adult dialog is directed to preschoolers (Keenan et al., 2016).

The phenomenon is essential because for young children to be prudent, they depend heavily on what they acquire from others during the preschool years. At that age, the child is able to make a distinction between grown-up orators with the ability to offer them authentic or unreliable information. This is because social communications and relationship correlations during cognitive progression conform to brain and mind growth.

Sometimes a child may experience challenges comprehending and executing simple directions. Recent research has shown that thoughts conceived by young children cannot be implicitly exhibited in their conduct (Libertus & Hauf, 2017).

The study further reveals that young children and newborns cannot demonstrate what they discern. The behavior is attributed to the restrictive nature in what they can perform, conflicting attentive demands, and ingenuous self-control. Consequently, developmental scientists are forced to employ sensible experiments in interpreting the children’s understanding and knowledge about the world. The researchers discover the cognitive developments by formulating study techniques that depend on coherent responses and disregarding any contending interferences (Keenan et al., 2016). The outcomes from these trials play a key role in elucidating the exponential growth in problem-solving, imitation, and dialectal learning in young children.

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Social/Emotional Development

Social and emotional competence is a multidiscipline paradigm, which influences the capacity to comprehend and manage behavior and emotions. The construct also enables people in decision-making for goal accomplishment, as well as the establishment and conservation of beneficial relationships through the exhibition of empathy and feelings for others (Keenan et al., 2016). Socio-emotional development is categorized into five correlated aptitudes: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These elements of the social/emotional growth domain are crucial for the general and academic adjustment of the child during preschool years (Libertus & Hauf, 2017). The future mental well-being of a child in persevering distractions relies on the socio-emotional functions.

The deficiency in social skills and demanding conduct of the child instigate serious challenges when they try to cooperate with the teachers or to relate with their peers. When the resolution of the underlying behavior fails to be accomplished during the initial stages of schooling, the child suffers from persistent social/emotional challenges (Keenan et al., 2016). The socialization problems in the individual are often observed during adolescence and adulthood as they struggle to adapt to vocational and educational adaptations (O’Connor et al., 2016). Therefore, emergent behavioral issues ought to be addressed early enough to avert further deterioration of the condition.

Strengthening of socio-emotional skills among young children is attainable through the implementation of numerous evidence-oriented strategies. The inherent approaches are designed to enhance the identification and understanding of the emotions of children (Libertus & Hauf, 2017). Simple emotion control approaches entail nurturing social analytical skills. Pro-social strategies involve coaching, role-playing, and modeling skills, as well as bolstering of ethically acceptable behavior (Keenan et al., 2016). On the verge of offering the children with daily socio-emotional elucidations, integrating such evidence-based schemes as part of the practices in classrooms is highly recommended.

Physical Development

Physical growth in young infants performs concurrently with cognitive development, and progression in either domain depends on the evolution of the other. Normal physical advancement in children assumes a predefined trajectory though there are distinctive differences for developmental rate amongst individuals (Keenan et al., 2016). The progression covers the growth of a healthy body with respect to the improvement of sensory systems such as hearing and eyesight. It also encompasses the building of the power to utilize the musculoskeletal mechanism of palpable motor skills that implicate the muscular body’s locomotion (Libertus & Hauf, 2017). Further, tolerable motor skills requiring precision and the regulated generation of voice sound are tackled. Motor and sensory growth are crucial for classroom and daily activities, which promote early learning, intellectual development, and educational feat.

Growth of fine and gross motor skills in young children occurs all through from birth to school readiness in subsequent stages of development. The maturation is exhibited by the ability to support their heads, crawling, standing, walking, fastening shoelaces, running, and writing (Keenan et al., 2016).

In establishing the interlinking of physical development and other domains, some studies have shown that learners exhibiting fine motor skills deficiencies record lower scores in language and math. Other research has also delineated the strong correlation between fine motor skills and imminent academic excellence. Some scientists have also ascertained that the learning process during motor and cognitive developments is controlled by an analogous neural system (Libertus & Hauf, 2017). Consequently, there is a need for a shift in school curricula to facilitate the inclusion of activities like physical education and arts, which emphasize fine motor skills.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most detrimental effect of maternal drinking during the perinatal period. The condition was first pronounced by Jones and Smith in the United States. For mothers drinking heavily during pregnancy, the newborns with the disorder were identified by unique facial abnormalities such as squeaky upper lip and short openings of eyelids (Kesmodel et al., 2019). Some children also had a smooth or flat fissure between the upper lip and the nose. The affected babies exhibited behavioral and cognitive problems as well as growth retardation.

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In contrast to the newborns who have Down syndrome and demonstrate impairment in nearly all intellectual functionality aspects, fetal alcohol syndrome victims (FAS victims) perform well in linguistic assessments. Nevertheless, they face challenges while handling multifaceted dialectal tests, particularly the checks entailing practical language situations. The most outstanding anomalies are in attentional and arithmetic performance. A significant percentage of FAS cases have exhibited intelligence quotient (IQ) scores in the range of low to average, despite most of them being diagnosed with mental retardation. However, comparative low IQ tests are also exhibited in children who have not had any alcohol exposure.

Previous studies have demonstrated that children with FAS had similar scores in reading and IQ-related subjects. However, the performance was dismal in the calculation and particular alertness facets. The children were found to have a slow capability in coordinating, planning, and implementing apt responses in the behavioral feedback. The research has also revealed that children affected by FAS often suffer from deteriorated socio-emotional growth in comparison to their IQ scores. The concerned development in children encompasses personality, moral, emotional, and social progression.

Harmful Effects of Alcohol on a Fetus

Intake of any quantity of alcoholic drinks during the prenatal period can trigger severe health complications for the growing organs and brain of the baby. One of the underlying problems is the possibility of a pregnant mother to experience premature birth (Mamluk et al., 2020). The behavior may lead to the development of fetal brain loss during growth. Another harm to the baby is the likelihood of congenital disabilities, which alter the shape or functioning of at least one organ of the body. Such defects at birth may include hearing, vision, and heart problems.

Indulging in alcohol during pregnancy may also result in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Babies who contract FASDs experience developmental and intellectual disabilities, thus the communication and learning challenges are in some people (Mamluk et al., 2020). The fetus with the condition exhibits lifetime delays and problems in physical growth. Babies with FASDs often find it difficult to socialize with others and to be watchful of themselves. Finally, prenatal alcohol drinking may lead to the delivery of newborns with low birth weight (LBW). In the worst cases, alcohol consumption during pregnancy causes miscarriage or even stillbirth.

How Alcohol Damages the Fetus

When a pregnant mother drinks, the consumed alcohol flows to the unborn baby via the placenta and the umbilical cord. The phenomenon implies that the fetus consumes the alcohol and keeps it from attaining normal growth (O’Neil, 2018). During the embryonic stage, alcohol introduces developmental malformations, which yield birth deficiencies and pregnancy arrest in case of critical growth deviations. Additionally, maternal alcohol consumption during this stage may inhibit proper blastocyst implantation in the uterine walls (O’Neil, 2018). This raises the probability of early cessation of the pregnancy due to damage of the cell lineage.

During the fetal stage, alcohol-prompted injury to the neural crest cells induces lethal facial abnormalities in the minor. Alcohol hampers the production, transmission, and arrangement of progenitor cells during cardiac development, thus resulting in valve-shaping anomalies and ventricular and atrial complications, which risk future heart attacks during adulthood (O’Neil, 2018). Compromising the developmental cycle also causes other damages such as morphological abnormalities, hypoplasia of the optic nerve, and reduced brain white matter.

Negative Effects of Fetal Alcohol on an Individual

Fetal alcohol effects (FAE) find its application where the mother had heavy drinking during pregnancy, and the child shows some of the FAS characteristics. The precise interpretation of FAE is established through a discussion of its three manifestations. First, partial FAS relates to children with excessive prenatal alcohol exposure and gives disclosure of some neurodevelopmental disorders and alcohol-linked facial dysmorphology traits (Kesmodel et al., 2019).

Second, alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD) refer to children with confirmed contact to undue perinatal alcohol and exhibit at least one congenital deformity such as ocular, cardiac, auditory, or renal. Lastly, Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) is characterized by quantifiable neurobehavioral abnormalities due to prolonged heavy-alcohol exposure during pregnancy (Mattson et al., 2019). The ensuing section gives an in-depth delineation of the behavioral and cognitive culminations emanating from prenatal alcoholic vulnerability.

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Reduced Intellectual Flexibility

Intellectual flexibility denotes the capacity in an individual to attend simultaneously to several tasks and be able to adjust his or her attention to a particular undertaking. Children with FAS are associated with lowered cognitive flexibility, especially in verbal proficiency tests where they are required to name many words from a specified set (Tsang et al., 2016). These tests are essential in gauging the intellectual flexibility of children as they entail monitoring the retrieved information from the indelible memory for correspondence with the suggested instructions. Lowered mental suppleness amongst FAS children has been witnessed in design fluency assessment, where the child is required to join the dots while alternating between successive letters and numbers. Similar results have also been observed in Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, which requires the child to sort the cards based on number, shape, or color on the card (Furtado & Roriz, 2016).

The test results have exhibited that FAS children accomplish the predetermined trials but continue with the previous feedback, even with the modification and change of the criterion. The deduction is a clear indication that the FAE or FAS suffer from inadequacy of cognitive flexibility.

Diminished Sustained Alertness

Unrelenting alertness denotes the ability to maintain focus and alertness over a stretch of time, often gauged by predetermined vigilance. Prevailing research shows that during the attentiveness tasks for constant performance checks, children suffering from FAE or FAS exhibited slower response time in identifying the targeted stimulus (Baeza-Velasco et al., 2018). In tasks that demand active information processing, FAE or FAS patients and children often demonstrate a deficiency in concentration and elevated rates of inconsistencies. One such study found out that an increment in alcohol exposure during pregnancy resulted in inferior performance. The poor reaction duration was perceived during the undertaking of successive tasks and intellectual capacity assessment through timed reading. The deficiency in sustained attention amongst FAS children has also been associated with the inhibition of response and strong recollection of information, leading to impaired execution of functions.

Hyperactivity and Reduced Attention

Hyperactivity has been established in most FAS or FAE children whenever the mothers of the victims pursue prenatal care. However, recent research has shown that impulsivity is one of the least appalling complications among those reported by FAS children guardians (Baeza-Velasco et al., 2018). Scholars submit that there is a high likelihood of having FAS victims from patients from psychiatric and medical referrals drawn from families living in unstable family settings due to alcohol, which necessitates hyperactivity.

The deduced impulsivity is associated with environmental and social dynamics like post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and co-existing disposition complications (Baeza-Velasco et al., 2018). Additionally, FAS children have also been linked with slow responsiveness and reaction, in comparison to the majority of those children without prior confirmed exposure to alcohol. Subsequently, the FAS victims who are hyperactive and less attentive frequently get referred for medication due to their disruptive behavior in school and family settings.

Deficiency in Resolute Awareness

Several studies involving FAE and FAS victims have demonstrated that the patients have a substantial shortfall in the ability to uphold their consciousness in the presence of an obstacle. Deterioration in awareness amongst children is often aggravated by escalating the subjection to prenatal alcohol, even with lower exposure levels related to ARND (McLaughlin et al., 2019). Nevertheless, research has also established that despite the FAS experiencing more inferior resolute awareness, the performance of the victims is usually superior in comparison to children sustaining attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Consequently, the severity of the unyielding responsiveness due to perinatal alcohol vulnerability is gentle compared to ADHD restraints.

Memory and Learning Impairment

Prevailing studies have established that FAS victims exhibit greater concern regarding memory and learning defacement in comparison to those patients without a history of alcohol susceptibility during pregnancy. Other explorations have shown that though non-retarded grown-ups diagnosed with FAS experienced challenges in memorizing word listing, they struggled slightly in recalling what they had gained. Further research indicates that FAS children evaluated on the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) experienced the problem of forgetting fresh information than retrieving the reserved data gathered previously (Agnihotri et al., 2018).

Some studies have postulated that short-term memory remains unaffected by alcohol exposure during pregnancy at birth. However, it leads to the awful functioning of the visual expectancy paradigm. Nevertheless, intensified exposure to perinatal alcohol results in less efficient and slower processing of information for children between six and twelve months of infancy.

In addition, poor performance is observed in alcohol-exposed children when prompted to remember a list of names which they had previously seen. However, when served with clues and multiple choices, there was a noticeable improvement in performance. This clearly illustrates that despite remembrance and reservation memory being intact, memory and learning deficiency is connected to alcohol exposure during pregnancy (Agnihotri et al., 2018). In other instances, FAS children learn manual execution of some pre-designated sequence but fail to remember the sequence verbally. Therefore, exposure to alcohol influences the declarative memory, while the procedural memory remains relatively unaffected.

Other research revealed that the verbal IQ for children who had cases of alcohol exposure had substantially lesser IQ, particularly in the domain of interpersonal capabilities. However, the IQ scores improved with the gradual growth of the affected children. The disposition outlines that relationship issues, and social acumen in FAS are not reverberations of their rational restraints (Agnihotri et al., 2018). Some exemplars have also noted that standard IQ scores in FAS children may be achieved by the age of six, implying that the condition does not deteriorate as the child approaches adulthood. Noteworthy, by that age, the FAS children become affectionate, communicative, and approachable.

Personality inventory for children (PIC) has also linked the FAS children with delinquency and mental retardation. PIC notes that such children have a high probability of resisting requests and limitations by those in authority, disregarding feelings and rights of others, as well as some antisocial conducts (Agnihotri et al., 2018). Moreover, FAS adults are likely to victims of wrongdoing and involvement in sexually absurd actions due to their extreme aggression levels.

Poor Planning

Children diagnosed with FAS perform dismally in assessments such as progressive planning tests, stepping stone-maze, and Raven’s standard progressive matrices. The tests are employed to evaluate the ability of a child to utilize feedback to locate an invisible route and determining the appropriate patterns for insertion in space-cut blanks (Gill & Thompson-Hodgetts, 2018). The tests are suitable for measuring complex organization, problem analysis capability, strategy formulation, and performance monitoring. Studies have set forth that children with FAS at intensities matching the ARND levels due to prenatal alcohol subjection get frequently identified with poor planning during the assessments. In contrast with ADHD, the seriousness of anomalies attributed to deplorable planning are higher for children with FAE or FAS.

Socio-Emotional Anomalies

Exposure to prenatal alcohol leads to augmented levels of moodiness during the early stages of life. The character imparts behavioral issues and weaker maternal affection during childhood (Richards et al., 2020). Some teacher-based studies have revealed that prenatally alcohol-exposed children were more violent and less social in the class. The effects depicted that the prenatal susceptibility to alcohol may have impacted the socio-emotional growth as it is independent of the social setting of child-nurturing.

Behavioral scale results from parents with FAE and FAS minors showed that most adolescents had limited socialization and poor interpersonal skills. Other peculiar observations amongst the victims were deprived reactions to social cues and negligence of consequences emanating from their actions (Singh et al., 2018). Due to their daily lifestyle and communication skills, the FAS children’s IQ score often falls short by some points from the projected IQ for children in a similar age-group.


The literature review has outlined social/emotional, physical, and cognitive as the domains of child development and delineated their interrelation with each other. Environmental and sociocultural experiences have also been described as influencers of infant growth. Further, prenatal alcohol exposure has been linked with a unique deficiency in intellectual patterns. The traits are predominant in arithmetic, organization, feedback modification skills, and mental flexibility. Alcohol-exposed victims exhibit more impairment in amassing of fresh learning as opposed to withholding and repossession of previously acquired information.

Insufficiency of socio-emotional skills amongst FAS children gets more conspicuous as they grow up. The effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol have been shown to be severe, leading to deficits in interpersonal skills and social perception as well as antisocial behavior amongst FAS patients.


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