Characteristics of Mothers Who Have Children With Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Some Characteristics of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Valborg L. Kvigne, MBA, Gary R. Leonardson, PhD, Joseph Borzelleca, MD, MPH, Ellen Brock, MD, MPH, Martha Neff-Smith, PhD, MPH, RN, Thomas K. Welty, MD, MPH


J Am Board Fam Med. 2003;16(4) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Background: Health care providers can more effectively prevent fetal alcohol syndrome and prenatal alcohol exposure if they know more about mothers who have children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or some characteristics of FAS.
Methods: We conducted two retrospective case-control studies of Northern Plains Indian children with FAS and some characteristics of FAS diagnosed from 1981 to 1993 by using the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM), code 760.71. We compared mothers who had children with FAS or some characteristics of FAS with mothers who had children that did not have FAS.
Results: Compared with control mothers, 43 mothers who had children with FAS and 35 mothers who had children with some characteristics of FAS were older, had fewer prenatal visits, more pregnancies, more mental health problems, and more injuries (both total and alcohol-related). Although the prevalence of drinking was high in both case and control mothers, case mothers had more alcohol-related medical problems, drank heavily, in binges, and daily more often than control mothers.
Conclusions: Women with injuries and mental health problems should be screened for substance use. Mothers of children with FAS or of some characteristics of FAS have numerous needs that must be addressed to prevent future prenatal alcohol exposure.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most common cause of preventable mental retardation in the United States.[1] Although there are great intertribal and regional differences in alcohol use, abuse, and FAS among American Indians, overall rates of alcohol-related mortality exceed US all-races rates.[2] Because surveillance for FAS has been sporadic and incomplete, national rates of FAS are not well established. The prevalence of FAS among Northern Plains Indians was estimated at 8.5 per 1,000 live births.[3] Alcohol use during pregnancy among Northern Plains Indian women was reported at 56% in an urban site in a rural state.[4] The purpose of this study was to describe Northern Plains Indian women who have children with FAS and women who have children with some characteristics of FAS, so that health care providers can provide optimal care for such women, determine which women are at risk for having children with FAS, and intervene to prevent FAS and prenatal alcohol exposure.


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