Screening for Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

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​Screening for Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

Early identification of developmental disorders, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), is critical to the well-being of children and their families. Research over the past 50 years has clarified the harmful effects of alcohol on the developing fetus and subsequent lifelong physical, behavioral and learning disabilities. 

Screening for prenatal alcohol exposure is an essential function of the primary care medical home and the responsibility of all pediatricians. Early identification of a child at risk for developmental disability because of a positive screen for prenatal alcohol exposure should lead to further evaluation, and when warranted, diagnosis and treatment. Pediatricians are well-positioned to screen children for prenatal alcohol exposure, spearheading the process of accurate diagnosis, and coordination of care necessary to improve health and psychosocial outcomes for children with an FASD and their families.

Bright Futures Health Supervision Visit - Prenatal and Newborn

Screening for prenatal alcohol exposure is a component of heath supervision visits for newborns and new patients (Page 343) according to the Bright Futures Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents (4th Edition). A risk assessment for maternal alcohol and substance use is included. 

Screening for Prenatal Alcohol Exposure: An implementation guide for pediatric primary care providers

This implementation guide offers an evidence-informed method to determine a history of prenatal alcohol exposure to support pediatricians in facilitating early identification of children who are at risk for one of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs.). 

Screening for Prenatal Exposure to Alcohol

Maternal self-report remains the major approach for identifying alcohol consumption during pregnancy. More accurate reports about alcohol use are elicited when screening is conducted in a nonjudgmental and nonconfrontational manner, respecting confidentiality. A suggested screen for prenatal exposure to alcohol is included in the article by Hagan, JF et al "Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated With Prenatal Alcohol Exposure" (Pediatrics October 2016)

Alcohol and Pregnancy

There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Alcohol Portal offers additional information about Alcohol & Pregnancy; specifically the effects that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can have on a baby. 

No mother drinks because she wants to hurt her baby. Additional information and resources to support women are available through the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (