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Dangers Of Drinking During Pregnancy

Aug 17, 2007
In 1968 French medical researchers identified a collection of abnormalities in children born to alcoholic mothers. These abnormalities came to be known collectively as the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The defects associated with FAS are caused when alcohol drunk by the mother crosses the placenta, enters the unborn child's bloodstream, and interferes with normal biological development.

Most FAS babies have distinct facial features. They usually have small heads, with small eyes, very thin upper lips, low, sunken nasal bridges, and flattened cheekbones. In addition to their distinctive facial features, FAS babies suffer a variety of other physical defects. They generally show growth retardation. They are shorter and lighter in weight, on average, than non-FAS babies. This growth lag tends to persist into childhood. FAS babies often have deformities in their bones and joints and may have certain heart defects. Motor coordination tends to be poor, also. The most devastating problems, however, center on their intellectual development.

The developing brain is especially sensitive to alcohol. Prenatal exposure to alcohol appears to cause faulty arrangement of brain cells. Hence, FAS babies have reduced potential for developing their thinking and reasoning. By the time they reach school age, FAS babies typically show signs of mental retardation. Throughout childhood they will have poor attention spans and impaired learning skills.

In addition to their many intellectual problems, FAS children have a range of behavioral problems. They tend to be restless, irritable, and aggressive. They are likely to have poor impulse control. Because they have difficulty interpreting and responding to social cues, FAS children often have few friends.

Today we know that a mother does not have to be an alcoholic to give birth to a child who shows signs of FAS. A mother's consistent use of alcohol, even small amounts, throughout pregnancy can produce adverse effects on the unborn child. Occasional binge drinking during pregnancy can also have profound effects.

It is estimated that 1 infant in 750 suffers from FAS. Perhaps another 10 infants suffer from Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE). FAE refers to a condition that is somewhat less severe than FAS. The child with FAE does not show all the signs of full-blown FAS, but shares many of the same developmental defects. For example, children with FAE typically have intellectual impairments and behavioral problems that continue throughout childhood and beyond.

How much alcohol can a woman safely consume when she is pregnant? Occasionally a physician will tell a woman that a drink of wine now and then will not hurt her unborn child. However, the fact of the matter is, no one knows for sure how much alcohol is needed to harm the unborn child. The National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome has stated that "no amount of alcohol has been proven safe to consume during pregnancy". The best advice for women, who are pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant, is to abstain from all drinking. By following this advice, the wide range of birth defects associated with FAS and FAE can be prevented.
About the Author
Douglas Hardwick, Ph.D., has extensive interests in issues of holistic health and human development. He is a primary contributor to the information website: www.holisticwebworks.com - Holistic Health and Healing Resources
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