How Alcohol Can Affect Your Unborn Fetus

While many experts feel there is little harm in having an occasional glass of wine during your pregnancy, others feel that having even one drink while pregnant is akin to playing Russian Roulette with your baby's health. Either way, everything that goes into your body during your pregnancy travels directly through your bloodstream into the placenta, so if you are having a drink-so is your baby. The difference in you-a fully grown adult-having a drink and your tiny fetus having a drink is that due to its size and stage of growth, the developing baby has little tolerance for alcohol. Alcohol can significantly interfere with your baby's ability to take in adequate oxygen and nourishment which are essential for the normal development of brain cells and body organs.

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

FAS can bring both mental and physical defects to your baby, which they develop in the womb when mom drinks too much alcohol. The challenge lies in defining exactly how much is "too much." When you consider that a baby born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome could potentially require a lifetime of special care simply because mom chose to drink, there seems to be little question regarding how much an expectant mother can safely drink, and some experts believe that even women who plan to get pregnant should stop drinking even before they actually conceive.

Potential Problems for Your Baby

A baby who is born with FAS can have a much smaller body size and weight than a "normal" baby, can develop at a much slower rate, and, in some cases, may never catch up in size or mental development to its peers. Deformed ribs or sternum, hip dislocations and a curved spine are commonly seen in babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome, as are fused or webbed fingers and toes, or even digits which are missing completely. Facial abnormalities, a smaller than normal head, and narrow eye openings are often seen in FAS babies, as are drooping eyelids, a sunken nasal bridge, thin upper lip, and the inability of the eyes to move in the same direction.

Major organ deformities, heart abnormalities, a smaller-than-normal brain, kidney defects and handicaps in the central nervous system are all possibilities when the mother drinks during pregnancy. Learning disabilities may not be seen immediately following birth, but such issues as an extremely short attention span, mild to severe mental retardation, hyperactivity and poor eye-hand coordination are often noted once the child is several years old. Although it is clear that the alcohol in a mother's blood crosses to the baby through the placenta, rendering the baby's blood alcohol level the same as the mom's, how alcohol causes FAS is not entirely clear.

Just Say "No"

A baby's brain can be harmed by a relatively small amount of alcohol if it is consumed during the time when the brain is developing, which is typically between the second and eighth week of pregnancy. Most women cannot be precise on exactly when that time occurs, lending more weight to the idea that simply foregoing alcohol during pregnancy is the wisest course. If you drank small amounts of alcohol during the early stages of your pregnancy prior to learning you were pregnant, the risk to your baby is low-binge drinking, on the other hand, at any time during your pregnancy can cause serious problems.

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