Danger of drinking
Whether or not you drink alcohol is a decision that many people make at some point in their life. But if you are pregnant, there is only one choice you can make. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be dangerous to your baby. Research has shown that babies born to mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy may have serious health problems. Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of these problems. In the United States, about two babies out of every 1,000 babies have fetal alcohol syndrome. It is the leading cause of developmental disability and birth defects in this country. According to a 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 18 percent of pregnant women reported drinking alcohol during the first trimester of their pregnancy. To prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, a woman should not drink if she is planning to get pregnant. This is because a woman can get pregnant and not know for up to six weeks.
Each year, between 5,000 and 12,000 babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome in this country. The severity of fetal alcohol syndrome is variable and irreversible. Some children may suffer from distinctive facial features, such as wide-set eyes, an exceptionally thin upper lip or a short, upturned nose. Others may have deformities in their joints, limbs or fingers or vision or hearing problems. Heart defects and problems with kidneys and bones are also common. Less obvious, but more common than the birth defects are the effects of alcohol in pregnancy on a child’s brain development. A child with fetal alcohol syndrome may have poor coordination or balance and suffer with learning disorders or delayed development. The condition can cause the child to have a poor memory and rapidly changing moods. They may also have some social or behavioral issues like difficulty in school, poor concept of time or have problems with staying on task.
No amount is safe
No matter what you may have heard, there is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy, Dr. Zachary Stowe of the UAMS Women’s Mental Health Program says the only choice is abstinence. In other words, why take a chance?’ Pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should avoid alcohol of any kind. This includes all wines, beer, and mixed drinks. A standard drink is defined as .60 ounces of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to one 12-ounce beer or wine cooler, one five-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof hard liquor. Some drinks, like mixed alcoholic drinks or malt liquor drinks, might contain even more alcohol. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. For that reason, Dr. Stowe says women of childbearing age should talk with their doctor about how to prevent an alcohol-exposed pregnancy. Drinking alcohol until confirmation of pregnancy results in early exposure for which the risks are unclear.
Greater the chance
The more a mother drinks during pregnancy, the greater the chances are her child will suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol enters a woman’s bloodstream and reaches her developing fetus by crossing the placenta. Alcohol causes higher blood alcohol concentrations in a developing baby than in a mother’s body because a fetus metabolizes alcohol slower than an adult does. Early diagnosis may help reduce the risk of long-term problems for children with fetal alcohol syndrome, you should let your child’s doctor know if you drank alcohol while you were pregnant. Don’t wait for problems to arise before seeking help. If you’ve adopted a child, you may not know if your child’s biological mother drank alcohol while pregnant and it may not initially occur to you that your child may have fetal alcohol syndrome. However, if your child has learning and behavioral problems, talk with your child’s doctor so that the underlying cause might be identified.
There is no cure for fetal alcohol syndrome, early intervention is the best option for reducing some of the problems and disabilities that can occur as a result of a mother’s drinking during pregnancy. It’s likely that the child will need help in walking, talking and social skills. A team that includes a special education teacher, a speech therapist, physical and occupational therapists and a psychologist can be of assistance. Medications may be prescribed to deal with some of the symptoms while medical care may be necessary for problems like a heart abnormality. Women that choose to continue drinking may have issues warranting attention. Evaluation of the potential benefits of substance abuse treatment for the mother and parenting skills is important. A stable, nurturing home is the single most important factor in protecting children with fetal alcohol syndrome from some of the secondary disabilities they’re at risk of later in life.
These programs were first broadcast the week of October 26, 2015.
T. Glenn Pait, M.D., of UAMS is the host of the program.