Saturday, 7 April 2012

The effects of alcohol on a foetus

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her unborn baby. The alcohol passes quickly through the placenta into the foetus. In the baby's immature system the alcohol is broken down much more slowly than in the mother's. As a result, the alcohol level can be higher, and remain elevated much longer in the baby. This can sometimes cause lifelong damage to the child.

For the foetus, alcohol interferes with its ability to get enough oxygen and nourishment for normal cell development in the brain and other body organs.

The damage which occurs in children as a result of heavy drinking during pregnancy is called Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). It occurs most often in children whose mothers are alcoholics or chronic binge drinkers.

Children with FAS are abnormally small at birth and do not catch up later, no matter how well they are nourished. They have distinctive facial features. Their organs, especially the heart, may not be formed properly. Their brains may be small and shaped abnormally. Most will have some degree of mental disability. They will often be afflicted with poor co-ordination, behavioural problems and short attention spans.

The effects of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome are lifelong. Even as adolescents and adults, those who are not mentally retarded will have varying degrees of psychological and behavioural problems. It is unlikely they will be able to hold down a job or live independently.

Other babies affected by alcohol can also have serious, lifelong disabilities without all the features of FAS. These babies are said to have Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). These disorders are the biggest preventable cause of birth defects and brain damage in unborn children. There is no cure for FASD. The disabilities are permanent.

Some babies exposed to high levels of alcohol will die before they are born. Researchers are unsure how much alcohol is safe for expectant mothers to drink, nor do they thoroughly understand just how the foetus is damaged by alcohol.

Since we do not know what a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is, the best and safest choice is to ingest no alcohol at all. There is even some research indicating that women who plan to get pregnant should stop drinking before they even conceive.

There are experts who believe that taking even one drink may be endangering the health of the developing baby. One thing is clear, when an expectant mother has an alcoholic beverage- a beer, a glass of wine or a cocktail- her unborn child takes the same drink. It goes directly through her bloodstream and into the placenta.

When the mother-to-be decides to have a drink, she simultaneously decides to inflict a potentially damaging substance on the child growing within her. When you think of the risk in these terms, is it really worth taking a chance? Nine months without alcohol out of a lifetime, seems a small price to pay to increase the probability of having a beautiful, healthy, bouncing baby to love, guide and accompany into the future.

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