Alcohol and Pregnant Women
The simple fact of becoming pregnant completely changes the risks associated with drinking alcohol. And this doesn't mean drinking alcohol to excess or being addicted to alcohol. Really it refers to drinking any alcohol while pregnant.
If a non-pregnant woman is only having an occasional drink, there may be no health or mental risk to an occasional drink. But alcohol and pregnant women don't mix. Any amount of alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of "fetal alcohol syndrome disorder" in the newborn.
What is fetal alcohol syndrome disorder and what causes it?
It is well known that the alcohol one drinks winds up in the blood. A person's drunkenness is measured by detecting their their BAC - blood alcohol content. Every bit of a mother's blood circulates through the fetus as well, so every drop passes through the baby's growing body. While a little alcohol may not bother a mother much, it may severely interfere with the baby's proper development, especially growth and central nervous system development. This type of damage in the newborn is referred to as "fetal alcohol syndrome disorder" (FASD). This term describes a range of abnormalities from mild to severe.
FASD symptoms may show up as physical, mental or developmental abnormalities. A baby may have a few, some or all of these symptoms and they may vary in severity:
- Abnormal facial features and a small head
- Shorter-than-average height
- Low body weight
- Poor coordination
- Vision or hearing problems
- Problems with the kidneys or bones or especially the heart
- Problems sleeping and sucking
Once the child gets older and especially when they start in school, other signs may be apparent:
- The child may be excessively active and may not be able to control all his or her actions
- He or she may manifest difficulty paying attention and have a poor memory
- There may be difficulties learning, especially math
- Specific learning disabilities may be present, such as dyslexia
- There may be a low IQ and poor judgment skills
- The child may have vision or hearing problems
- More severe cases may have mental disabilities
Studies done of pregnant women who drank just one alcoholic drink per week, and their babies, showed that even this small amount of alcohol while pregnant resulted in smaller-sized babies and more behavior problems.
Ref: March of Dimes: Alcohol in Depth
Alcohol during Pregnancy Creates Other Dangers
FASD is not the only problem that can be created if a woman is drinking while pregnant. A number of studies have found a greater incidence of premature birth, stillbirth and miscarriage when a woman consumes alcohol while pregnant. In fact, a Danish study done in 2008 showed that pregnant women who were binge drinking while pregnant three or more times per week early in the pregnancy showed a 56 percent greater risk of stillbirth.
In 2005, the Surgeon General of the United States recommended that pregnant women completely abstain from alcohol consumption. This followed the 1981 recommendation that pregnant women simply limit the amount they drink. As time and experience mounted, it was found that there is no safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed while pregnant.
To be completely safe, a woman who is planning or trying to get pregnant should abstain from alcohol as many women don't know exactly when they become pregnant. A baby's brain and other organs start developing around the third week of pregnancy and are particularly vulnerable to alcohol during pregnancy in these early days.
It would be smart for a woman of child-bearing age who is not using birth control to also avoid drinking. That way, since more than half the pregnancies in the US are unplanned, if she becomes pregnant unexpectedly, she will not harm her baby.
Ref: Surgeon General: Alcohol and Pregnancy
The consequences for ignoring this guidance can be astronomically expensive: In 1982, the Alaska State Legislature estimated the cost of a baby born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a severe form of FASD with both physical and mental handicaps, at $1.4 million dollars for the lifetime of the child.
Ref: SAMHSA: http://fasdcenter.samhsa.gov/publications/cost.cfm (Cost of Alcohol and Pregnancy)
Getting a Pregnant Woman to Stop Drinking
All this information should be enough to stop most pregnant women from drinking, but if a pregnant woman finds she can't quit using alcohol while pregnant, she may be dependent on or addicted to alcohol. It may be impossible for her to stop without help. The sooner she can be helped to quit drinking during pregnancy, the better it will be for the baby.
The Narconon alcohol rehabilitation programs can help a woman who is drinking while pregnant. In a Narconon long-term residential rehab program, a pregnant woman will be separated from the opportunity to drink. Her baby will have a chance to develop normally while she is learning how to make her own alcohol-free decisions.
There are Narconon centers around the world, on six continents. Getting a woman who is drinking while pregnant into the Narconon drug and alcohol rehab may be the most important thing you can do for her own and the baby's health and well-being.