It would seem that “everyone knows” that you should never drink alcohol while pregnant. However, alcohol use while pregnant is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities in the United States.
There are usually three reasons a woman will drink alcohol while she is pregnant. The first is that she is an alcoholic and cannot or will not control her drinking. The second is that she does not know she is pregnant. The third and final reason is that she actually does not know what drinking alcohol will do to her unborn child.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
A child born from a mother who drank alcohol during her pregnancy may suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This syndrome was first described by Kenneth Lyon Jones and David W. Smith in 1973. A child with FAS can be diagnosed by facial features and expressions.
What does a child with FAS suffer from?
– Malformed face and ears
– Underdeveloped heart, eyes, leg, arms, teeth, brain, and external genitalia
– Mental retardation
– Lower learning abilities than other kids their age
– Depression and anxiety
– Inappropriate sexual behavior
How is a Fetus Affected by Alcohol Abuse?
A developing fetus is nourished by what the mother eats or drinks. This means that the food and drink the mother consumes is broken down in her digestive system and absorbed into her bloodstream. The blood is carried to the placenta, which filters out harmful elements like bacteria, but allows things like oxygen, sugar, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, caffeine, alcohol, and even drugs to go through and into the baby’s umbilical cord. The umbilical cord feeds the baby directly.
There is no “safe period” during which you can drink when pregnant. A fetus consumes what the mother consumes. This means that if you eat something healthy, your unborn child benefits from the nutrients you are giving him or her. On the flip side, if you drink, do drugs, or are generally unhealthy, your unborn baby is affected by your bad decision or addictive behavior.
Identifying Alcoholism in a Mother
A woman who is an alcoholic and is pregnant can exhibit the following behaviors and symptoms:
– Extreme nausea or morning sickness
– Getting consistently “black out” drunk
– Continuing to drink even when she knows she is pregnant and it will harm the baby
– Needs to drink to start her day
– Hiding her habit by keeping caches of alcohol “just in case” or by drinking secretively
– Cannot control how much she drinks
– Experiences withdrawal symptoms when she stops drinking
– Spending most of her time drinking and being hung over
– Hiding her habit from doctors and gynecologists
– Losing interest in the pregnancy, in life, or in activities she used to enjoy
– Depression or anxiety after drinking
Those are just some of the symptoms of alcoholism. There are more. A pregnant woman may hide her habit quite well, as it is so well known in modern times that drinking alcohol while pregnant is bad for the baby.
The very best solution for preventing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is for any potential mother (meaning any women of child-bearing age) who is an alcoholic to seek help with her addiction before she gets pregnant.
However, alcohol abuse and alcoholism lead to behaviors a person would not normally engage in if they were clean and sober. A woman might accidentally get pregnant while they are physically dependent on alcohol. If this occurs, the mother needs to stop using and probably needs rehab. If a mother decides to go clean – which they ethically should do for the sake of the baby – they need to consult a doctor and be closely monitored during a medical detox process.
www.CDC.gov, www.NCBI.NLM.NIH.gov, www.AACAP.org, www.BabyCenter.com