Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is Preventable
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a condition caused by exposure of an unborn child to alcohol during pregnancy. The good news is it is completely preventable by not drinking any alcohol while pregnant.
Dr. Christy Ulleland first discovered the link between prenatal exposure to alcohol and adverse infant outcomes in 1968. FAS is one of the leading causes of mental retardation, and it presents itself in a variety of ways. It is sometimes called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
Although many people, doctors included, will say it is okay to have one drink while pregnant, especially during the last trimester, it isn’t worth taking the chance. While many women don’t have any problems at all from drinking alcohol during pregnancy, genetic factors and the metabolism or liver functioning of the mother can play a factor in the outcome.
Alcohol enters the bloodstream and reaches the fetus through the placenta, where it is metabolized more slowly by the fetus, with higher concentrations than that of the mother. The first trimester has the most impact where oxygen depleted from the brain causes developmental problems with the organs and brain.
Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Babies born with FAS, or alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorders all have similar characteristics with varying degrees:
- Small eyes and an epicanthal fold on the corner of the eye
- Exceptionally thin upper lip
- Upturned nose
- Smooth skin surface between the lip and nose (Indistinct Philtrum)
- Undersized jaw (Micrognathia)
- Abnormalities to the outer ear
- Deformed fingers or limbs
- Delayed brain development and learning disorders
- Heart defects
- Slow growth
It is estimated that 120 babies are born with FAS every day in the United States. While it is not the fault of the babies, there is no cure for the disorder, and they will probably have trouble in school, with work, and possibly living in general for the rest of their lives.
Individuals born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome also have difficulties planning and organizing information, and socializing with their peers.
Exposure to even small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can be enough to cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Because there are no tests that can be given during pregnancy, it is important to look for signs soon after the child is born.
If this sounds scary to most people, it should be. Many parents are overprotective with their children after they are born. “Helicopter Parents” is a term common today for those who hover over their children at all times, and never let them out of their sight. It can be an admirable quality for many, as they care so much about the care and quality of life of their children.
It is ironic that so many of these same parents would take a chance drinking any alcohol at all during pregnancy when the risks are so great that it could cause a lifetime of problems for their child. One drink is too much when a woman is pregnant, especially since abstaining will only be for nine months. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is preventable.
Yet, there are some women who have an addiction to alcohol and they can’t stop drinking for a few days, let alone for nine months. For alcoholics, taking a drink is their lifeline. It is ever so important for these women to seek treatment way in advance of planning for a child or getting pregnant.
Even when caught at an early stage of pregnancy, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can possibly be prevented. Quitting drinking cold turkey can be dangerous for anyone, especially an expectant mother. So it is imperative to seek proper treatment from a licensed addiction specialist.
If you’re concerned about alcoholic tendencies during pregnancy, it’s never too early to get help. The longer you wait the worse it will get.
Photo courtesy of National Institutes of Health
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