Many mothers-to-be are putting their babies at risk of numerous physical and psychological effects by drinking alcohol. A report published in Pediatrics warns that consumption of any alcohol during pregnancy is unacceptable.
In the report, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) identify prenatal exposure to alcohol as the leading preventable cause of birth defects and intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities in children.
The AAP insist that “no amount of alcohol should be considered safe to drink during any trimester of pregnancy.”
Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Even if the child appears to be born healthy, the risk remains of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
FASD refers to the range of effects on children that can result from the mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Structural or functional effects on the brain, heart, bones and spine, kidneys, vision and hearing and even facial deformities can result from drinking during pregnancy.
Intellectual and psychological effects include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and specific learning disabilities, such as difficulties with mathematics and language, visual-spatial functioning, impaired impulse control, information processing, memory skills, problem-solving, abstract reasoning and auditory comprehension.
The effects and symptoms of FASDs cannot be reversed, but if diagnosed early, the child can be supported through therapy.
Even moderate consumption increases the risk
The AAP call FASD “the most preventable form of intellectual disability.” The incidence of FASD is comparable to spina bifida and Down syndrome, with up to 40,000 children a year born with some form of it.
Despite the risks, surveys show that about half of all childbearing age women in the US report consuming alcohol within the past month, and nearly 8% continue to consume alcohol during pregnancy.
A recent study found increased risk of infant growth retardation even when a pregnant woman’s consumption was limited to one alcoholic drink per day – the equivalent to a 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.
First-trimester drinking, compared with no drinking, increases the risk of giving birth to a child with FASDs 12 times. Drinking during the first and second trimesters increased FASDs odds 61 time, while drinking during the whole pregnancy increased the likelihood of FASD by a factor of 65.
One of the lead authors Dr. Janet F. Williams, comments:
“The research suggests that the smartest choice for women who are pregnant is to just abstain from alcohol completely.”
She says that even though FASDs are the most commonly identifiable causes of developmental delays and intellectual disabilities, they are not sufficiently recognized. She also cites a lack of uniformly accepted diagnostic criteria for FASDs, which, she says, has limited efforts that could lessen the impact on children.
The AAP website includes an online “toolkit” aimed at health workers, families and schools to encourage prevention and early diagnosis of FASDs.
Medical News Today recently reported on a major survey showing that many women are drinking alcohol while pregnant.
Written by Yvette Brazier