Pregnancy is usually considered as an occasion of joy and confident expectation. When a woman is pregnant, her friends and family all take part in the preparations for the arrival of the newborn. Furthermore, she takes significant precautions to help ensure that she will deliver a healthy baby.
One of the most important safety measures that an expectant mother must take is the avoidance of alcohol. Numerous studies have already proven that alcohol consumption during pregnancy is major cause of birth defects.
Alcohol: Safe for Pregnant Women?
Health experts have always prohibited pregnant women from drinking alcoholic beverages. However, there are some recent studies claiming that consuming small amounts of alcohol is safe for expectant mothers.
In 2007, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) came up with a draft guideline stating that pregnant women should abstain from alcohol only during their first trimester. After the first three months of pregnancy, they can consume up to 1.5 units of alcohol a day (Rose, 2007).
In the same year, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that there was no evidence proving that low-level alcohol consumption (1-2 units once or twice weekly) in pregnant women was harmful to their babies. Should there be any adverse effects, these were minimal and inconsistent with whatever findings they had (BBC News, 2007).
Alcohol and Pregnancy: A Fatal Mix
Despite the aforementioned assertions, most health experts still maintain that there is no safe amount of alcohol for expectant mothers. Pregnant women, as well as women who plan to conceive, should completely abstain from alcohol.
There is no such thing as a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, as “any amount can pass through the placenta to the baby” (BBC News, 2007). Thus, pregnant women who drink alcohol in any amount are putting themselves and their babies at risk (BBC News, 2007).
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one of the most common effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It is characterized by “mild to severe physical damage to the fetus (due to) the mother’s use of alcohol (while pregnant)” (MSN Encarta, 2008).
Worldwide, FAS is said to affect an estimated 1 to 3 out of 1,000 live births. Although it is highly preventable, FAS is the most well-known cause of mental retardation in the Western world. Another condition, fetal alcohol effects (FAE), referred to individuals who exhibited the symptoms of FAS at a lesser degree (MSN Encarta, 2008).
How Does Alcohol Affect the Fetus?
Alcohol affects the fetus by hampering the placenta, the organ through which the mother provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. Alcohol decreases blood flow to the fetus, resulting in severe nutritional and oxygen deficiencies (MSN Encarta, 2008).
Children with FAS have low birth weight, as well as stunted development. They also have distinctive facial features such as a flattened midface, short eye slits, a narrow upper lip and elongated space between the nose and the mouth.
Because of alcohol-induced damage to their central nervous system, children with FAS usually experience learning disabilities, mental retardation, small head size, seizures and developmental disabilities. They may also have behavioral problems and physical conditions like heart defects and hearing and visual problems (MSN Encarta, 2008).
A newborn baby’s health is entirely dependent on its mother. Thus, every mother must take care of herself while pregnant. One of the most important things that every expectant mother must do is to abstain from alcohol. It is just a matter of common logic to assume that alcohol – which happens to be a drug – is harmful to a developing fetus.
Alcohol is detrimental to a developing fetus, as it deprives the latter of oxygen and other nutrients that are necessary for its development. Thus, children born to mothers who drink while pregnant have fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a series of health conditions that is caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Children with FAS end up carrying into adulthood lifelong disabilities, such as mental retardation and visual and hearing problems.