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Foetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Dangers of Drinking During Pregnancy

Aug 10, 2008
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a disorder of permanent birth defects that occur in the offspring of pregnant mothers who drink throughout their pregnancy. A relatively new condition that has only recently been discovered, it is difficult to determine whether amount, frequency or timing of alcohol consumption has an effect on the unborn child. Thus, it has been determined that no amount of alcohol consumption is acceptable during pregnancy.

According to FASAware, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is the biggest cause of non-genetic mental handicap in the Western world and is 100% preventable. Common effects of FAS include smaller and underweight babies, slack muscle tones, a thin upper lip, low nasal bridge, permanent brain damage, speech impediments, heart and eye disorders and many more. It would seem that almost every type of birth defect can be attributed to drinking throughout the pregnancy.

Of all of the birth defects, central nervous system damage to the brain is the main effect of alcohol exposure in the womb. When brain cells are developing, they become malformed and underdeveloped when exposed to alcohol by the parent. This can create a variety of cognitive and functional disabilities such as poor memory and attention deficits. There are also a number of secondary disabilities including mental health problems and drug addiction.

The risk of brain damage from exposure to alcohol is apparent in every trimester as the brain is in constant development throughout the pregnancy.

FAS is the leading known cause of mental retardation in the Western world. In the United States alone, FAS is present up to two times in every 1,000 births which is higher than other developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida.

FAS is relatively unknown at the moment and it is difficult to pinpoint its exact cause. The first known observation of birth deficits was made in 1899 by Liverpudlian, Dr. William Sullivan. Sullivan conducted a study on 120 female prisoners and noted higher rates of still birth from the alcoholic portion of the quota.

Similar observations have been made by many other scientists and psychologists throughout the years but it was only in 1973 that FAS was given its official term by Drs Kenneth Lyons Jones and David W Smith of the University of Washington. Whilst most syndromes are named after their discoverer, Jones and Smith named FAS after its preventable cause.

There is no cure available for FAS due to the enormity of the damage to the central nervous system and this damage creates a permanent disability. There is, however, treatment available. Because the damage to the CNS varies from individual to individual, there is no single treatment that works for everyone, but a variety of treatments is suggested based on various models.

Traditional medical interventions such as psychoactive drugs are commonly used on patients with poor attention spans, similar to people diagnosed with ADHD. Special education services are also employed in such cases. Of course, there are no treatments for children born with physical deformities.

Like smoking during pregnancy, alcohol abuse is heavily frowned upon in modern society. It has been deemed that smoking increases the chance of still birth, reduces the weight of the new born child and increases the chance of ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo becomes implanted in the fallopian tube). The only true way to prevent Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is to cut out all alcoholic beverages from your diet completely. Whilst some studies have determined a small amount of alcohol causes no danger to the foetus, expectant mothers would do well to steer clear of it altogether.
About the Author
Samantha is an expert Research and Theatre consultant. Her current interests are UK shortbreaks including LEGOLAND Windsor and Alton Towers.
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