Pregnancy and Alcohol

Whatever you eat or drink while pregnant goes directly through your bloodstream into the placenta. If you're having a drink, your baby is too. This can be a problem as many women don’t know they’re pregnant until they’re six weeks along, and may have consumed alcohol during the early weeks of pregnancy.

There’s no evidence that a few drinks on a couple of occasions early in pregnancy will prove harmful to your developing baby. However, continuing to drink regularly throughout your pregnancy can cause a wide range of problems for your child.

How does alcohol affect your child?

Research has shown that a developing fetus has very little tolerance for alcohol and infants born to mothers who drink during pregnancy can have serious problems. For the unborn child, the alcohol interferes with his ability to get enough oxygen and nourishment for normal cell development in the brain and other body organs. It also results in many serious obstetrical complicatons

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Heavy drinking throughout pregnancy can result in what is known as fetal alcohol syndrome. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a pattern of mental and physical defects that develop in some unborn babies when the mother drinks excessive amounts of alcohol during pregnancy.

A baby born with FAS can have serious handicaps and therefore could require a lifetime of special care. Infants are born undersized, usually mentally deficient, with multiple deformities of the head, face, limbs, heart and nervous system. Infants with FAS also have a higher mortality rate. Children with FAS that survive often display learning, behavioral and social problems.

Thus the sooner a heavy drinker stops drinking during pregnancy, the less risk to her baby. There is even some research that indicates that women who plan to get pregnant should stop drinking before they even conceive.

Children with fetal alcohol syndrome can exhibit some or all of the following:

  • be born small
  • have problems eating and sleeping
  • have problems seeing and hearing
  • have trouble following directions and learning how to do simple things
  • have trouble paying attention and learning in school
  • have trouble getting along with others and controlling their behavior
  • need medical care all their lives
  • need special teachers and schools

Even moderate consumption (one to two drinks daily or occasional heavy bingeing), if it occurs throughout pregnancy, is related to a variety of serious problems.

Here are some more of the observed changes in children whose mothers drank through pregnancy:

  • small body size and low weight
  • slower than normal development and failure to ‘catch up’
  • deformed ribs and sternum
  • curved spine and hip dislocations
  • bent, fused, webbed, or missing fingers or toes
  • limited movement of joints
  • small head
  • facial abnormalities
  • small eye openings
  • skin webbing between eyes and base of nose
  • drooping eyelids
  • nearsightedness
  • failure of eyes to move in same direction
  • short upturned nose
  • sunken nasal bridge
  • flat or absent groove between nose and upper lip
  • thin upper lip
  • opening in roof of mouth
  • small jaw
  • low-set or poorly formed ears
  • organ deformities
  • heart defects or heart murmurs
  • kidney and urinary defects
  • genital malformations
  • central nervous system handicaps
  • small brain
  • faulty arrangement of brain cells and connective tissue
  • mental retardation -- occasionally severe
  • learning disabilities
  • short attention span
  • irritability in infancy
  • hyperactivity in childhood
  • poor body, hand, and finger coordination

Tips For Giving Up Alcohol

Although you shouldn’t worry about what you drank before you knew you were pregnant, it would be prudent to abstain for the rest of your pregnancy, except for the rare celebratory half glass of wine with your meal. You should also avoid alcohol while breastfeeding.

There are many ways to help you stop drinking. You do not have to drink when other people drink. If someone gives you a drink, it is OK say no. Stay away from people or places that make you drink. Do not keep alcohol at home. If you cannot stop drinking, seek help immediately.

You may have a disease called alcoholism. There are programs that can help you stop drinking. They are called alcohol treatment programs.

Your doctor or nurse can find a program to help you:

  • avoid situations here you usually drink, like parties or bars
  • if you drink to relax, try substituting other methods of relaxation: music, warm baths, massage, exercise or reading
  • ask your health care provider about alcohol treatment programs
  • if drinking is part of a daily ritual that you don’t want to give up, try substitutions such as non-alcohol beer, cider or grape juice, spritzer or other non-alcoholic beverages
  • ask your partner, family and friends to help you stay away from alcohol
  • join an Alcoholics Anonymous support group; their telephone number is in the white pages or community service pages of your local telephone book

    Drugs and alcohol dependencies among pregnant women are the cause of numerous health problems for babies. This is not an issue that should be put off until the last minute.

    Any pregnant women who know what drinking can do to a child, but are still unable to stop, are almost certainly the victims of alcoholism. The best solution to this problem is to seek help through rehabilitation. It is not worth it to put yourself through the cyclical pain of addiction, and it's certainly not worth it to potentially damage your child when help is available.

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