A woman's nutrition has the most direct influence on the developing foetus, while her genetics and that of the man contribute to the making of the baby. Her body provides the environment for the growth and development of the new human being. Prior to pregnancy, a woman has a unique opportunity to prepare herself physically, mentally and emotionally for many changes to come.
One out of ten pregnant women drinks alcohol at one point during her pregnancy and 1 out of 50 drinks frequently. Alcohol freely crosses the placenta and deprives the foetus of both oxygen and nutrients. It causes damage in two ways; directly by intoxication and indirectly, by malnutrition. Its consumption during this period endangers the foetus by causing irreversible and physical retardation of the foetus-fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and in severe end; foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Tragically, children with FAS never fully recover.
How much is safe?
The problem with drinking alcohol during your pregnancy is that there is no amount that has been proven to be safe. In other words, a pregnant woman never drinks alone. She shares each glass of wine, each beer, each cocktail equally with her baby. But it takes the fetus twice as long as the mother to eliminate the alcohol from its system. Some women may drink alcohol during pregnancy and have babies who seem healthy. It’s also difficult to predict the impact of drinking on any given pregnancy because some women have higher levels of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. Some may have very little alcohol during pregnancy and have babies with serious health conditions. Every pregnancy is different. Alcohol may hurt one baby more than another. The best way to keep your baby safe from problems caused by alcohol during pregnancy is not to drink alcohol when you’re pregnant.
Risks of Drinking While Pregnant
The reason no amount is considered safe during pregnancy is because of the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome. This can cause miscarriage, low birth weight, premature births, many birth defects which is a range of physical, cognitive, developmental and emotional problems. These effects will continue to impact the baby after they are born and as they grow.
When is the Damage Done?
The type of abnormality depends on the developmental events occurring at the time of alcohol exposure. During the first trimester, developing organs such as heart, brain, and kidneys may be malformed. During the second trimester, the risk of spontaneous abortion increases. During the third trimester, body and brain may be retarded.
Drinking can make you have any of these problems:
- Low birthweight (also called LBW). This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
- Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Premature birth. This is when your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies may have serious health problems at birth and later in life.
- Birth defects, like heart defects, hearing problems or vision problems. Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. It changes the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works.
- Brain damage and problems with growth and development.
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs). Children with FASDs may have a range of problems, including intellectual and developmental disabilities. These are problems with how the brain works that can cause a person to have trouble in learning, communicating, taking care of himself or getting along with others. They also may have problems or delays in physical development. FASDs usually last a lifetime. Binge drinking during pregnancy increases your chances of having a baby with FASDs. Binge drinking is when you drink four or more drinks in 2 to 3 hours.
Tips To Avoid Alcohol During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a natural stage of life and shouldn’t stop you from socialising. But if you are in a situation where drinking is involved, a good alternative is to have a non-alcoholic drink you enjoy. You might also find it helpful to say:
- I have a big day/early meeting tomorrow so no thanks;
- No, thank you, I’m not drinking tonight;
- No, thank you, I have to drive;
- I’m not feeling the best so would rather not, thanks.
- If you’re used to drinking at home, perhaps at the end of the day to relax, you might consider alternatives like taking a bath, going for a walk or reading a book.
- Get rid of all the alcohol in your home.
- If you're pregnant or even thinking about getting pregnant, don’t drink alcohol.
- Stay away from situations or places where you usually drink, like parties or bars.
- Alcohol can cause problems for your baby at any time in pregnancy, even before you know you’re pregnant.