Curriculum for Addiction Professionals > Competency 1: Introduction to FASD > 5. Historic Findings Related to Alcohol Use by Pregnant Women: Twentieth Century
Competency 1: Introduction to FASD
Historic Findings Related to Alcohol Use by Pregnant Women, Continued
For decades, physicians thought that the placenta provided a protective barrier
that would prevent teratogens such as alcohol from reaching
the fetus. Many believed children of alcoholics had defects related to poor genetic
stock rather than alcohol exposure. That was the conclusion in a 1946 article in
the Journal of the American Medical Association.
French researchers began to study alcohol and pregnancy in the 1950s. An unpublished
thesis reported the prenatal effects of alcohol on children
born to alcoholic parents. In 1968, Dr. Paul Lemoine published a study of 127 children
from 69 French families.5 Twenty-five
children had distinct features related to prenatal alcohol exposure. Dr. Lemoine
called this alcoholic embryopathy.
A few years later, Christy Ulleland, a pediatric resident in Seattle, became interested
in babies with failure to thrive. She noticed that many
had alcoholic mothers. In reviewing delivery records, she found more babies that
fit the pattern. Her colleagues, Drs. David Smith and Kenneth Jones, asked to have
all the children examined at one time.
In 1973, Jones and Smith identified a specific pattern of malformations, growth
deficiencies, and central nervous system defects in 10 children of alcoholic mothers.
Their study not only noted the connection between prenatal alcohol and
developmental disabilities, but gave
it a name: fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).6
It was originally believed that malnutrition might be responsible for these defects.
However, the pattern of malformation associated with FAS is not seen in children
born to malnourished women. In addition, alcohol has been found to be acutely toxic
to the fetus independently of the effects of malnutrition.7,8
Similar cases were found in Germany, France, and Sweden.9-11
As a result, FAS prevention programs were developed in
the late 1970s.12