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The Developing Baby

at five weeks: The fetus is approximately 1/2 inch long. The eyes, nose, and mouth are beginning to show. Human growth takes place from the head downward. Therefore, the head develops much more rapidly than the rest of the body; however, it also take more time to develop because of its complexity. Development of the head will continue long after birth. The arms and legs are extremely short at this time, but the hands and feet are starting to take shape, and the fingers are starting to form, but are still very webbed.

at six and a half weeks: The iris and pupil are developing, but the eyelid has not yet formed. As the eye (a complex system of muscles and nerves) takes several weeks to develop, exposure to alcohol can result in a number of muscle and vision problems.

at Eight weeks: The 1-1/2 inch long fetus still has a great deal of development ahead. The brain develops throughout gestation. Any time a woman drinks, it can influence how her baby's brain develops. If alcohol is present in the mother's body, it will cross the placenta into the fetus's body. While waiting for the alcohol to go back to the mother's body for processing, the fetus will excrete the alcohol into the amniotic fluid and re-ingest it many times. The blood alcohol content of the fetus will be the same as the mothers - for at least twice as long!

at Eleven weeks: the fingers are forming. Alcohol can impact the development of the joints and the placement of the fingers on the hand. Cocaine is a vasoconstrictor, so if the blood is unable to flow properly to the fingers, they will not obtain normal length. In some case, when a pregnant woman uses cocaine, the 3rd section of a finger may not form at all.

at Thirteen weeks: The eye is well developed and the lids close for several months, and the nose is short in comparison to a newborn (much of the additional growth in length occurs after birth). A picture of the fetus at this point would show how alcohol slows facial development resulting in typical FASD characteristics.

at Seventeen weeks: The fingers and fingernails are formed, as are the creases in the palm of the hand, normally formed by the fetus opening and closing the hand repeatedly. A drunk fetus won't move as often, and this contributes to the creases not forming properly.

Anytime after implantation of the blastocyst , when a woman drinks alcohol, it crosses the placenta into the baby's body and has the potential to damage whatever is developing at the time in the fetus. The amount of damage depends on many factors. However, alcohol is a teratogen more damaging to the fetus than crack cocaine, than heroin, than marijuana. Women want to be good mothers. They want to give birth to healthy babies, even if giving the baby up for adoption. No woman purposely drinks in order to intentionally give birth to a child with brain damage! An integral part of the disease of alcoholism is denial. If a woman is pregnant and drinking, she needs help and support. Anytime a woman stops drinking during pregnancy, her baby will be healthier than if she continues consuming alcohol.

Colin Rose, Accelerated Learning, Bantam Doubleday, Dell Publishing Group, 1997.

Ann Streissguth, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Guide for Families and Communities, Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD, 1997.

Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley, Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence, The Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, NY, 1997.

Developed by Deb Evensen, Deb Matthews