What FASD and Alcohol Can Do to Your Growing Baby From sobriety and social drinking to alcoholism, there is a broad spectrum of alcohol consumption. For women who may be pregnant, it is vital to be aware of the risks […]
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Why You Shouldn’t Take a Drink During Your Pregnancy

by Jill Taylor on March 18, 2014

in Pregnancy

What FASD and Alcohol Can Do to Your Growing Baby

From sobriety and social drinking to alcoholism, there is a broad spectrum of alcohol consumption. For women who may be pregnant, it is vital to be aware of the risks of alcohol from the time you conceive.

alcoholIt is certainly a myth that a little alcohol during your pregnancy will not harm your growing fetus. Rather, there are numerous effects of alcohol if you drink while you’re pregnant.

“Alcohol is a teratogen, or something that causes birth defects,” explains Nhung Tran, MD, FAAP, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at McLane Children’s Scott & White.

Dr. Tran is extensively trained to treat many developmental-behavior disabilities such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She also is the type of physician most experienced in seeing children who have already suffered injuries from alcohol.

“My role in ensuring healthy babies is to get the word out that any amount of alcohol is unsafe during pregnancy and women with alcohol misuse and abuse should seek help immediately without fear,” says Dr. Tran.

Facts about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term for a range of abnormalities. This disorder is due to the direct effects of maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

“Alcohol has more dire consequences to the fetus than any illicit substance,” says Dr. Tran. “Unfortunately, the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure to the infant are life-long and there is no cure.”

The diagnoses of FASDs depend on the child’s pattern of:

  1. Facial feature anomalies.
  2. Growth deficiency.
  3. Central Nervous System (CNS) or abnormalities in brain development.

“Every organ of the body can be affected by alcohol, especially the palate, eyes, heart and kidneys,” says Dr. Tran. “The effects of alcohol on the fetal brain can be the most debilitating because it can affect how the child functions in life.

There are several types of FASD:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
    • The most recognized form of FASD.
    • These children have the greatest degree of impairment with the characteristic face, prenatal and postnatal growth deficiency, and structural and functional CNS abnormalities.
  • Partial FAS (pFAS)
  • Alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND)
    • Children with ARND are mistakenly labeled as “mild.”
    • Children with ARND have many of the functional CNS abnormalities such as severe developmental, cognitive, sensory and behavioral deficits but without the characteristic facial features and/or growth problems.
    • Children with ARND “look normal” but have great difficulty with daily functioning especially with their behaviors.
  • Alcohol related birth defects (ARBD)

Effects of Alcohol on Your Growing Baby

Some of the same characteristics used to diagnose your baby with FASD, are the same you will see throughout your child’s life.

The effects of alcohol can be broken up into:

  • Structural Effects
    • Small brain (microcephaly) due to loss or underdeveloped nerve cells
  • Neurological Effects
    • Seizures
  • Functional Effects
    • Language delay
    • Learning disabilities
    • Intellectual disabilities (formerly known as mental retardation)
    • ADHD
    • Sensory processing deficits
    • Motor delays
    • Impairment in executive function
      • This unique problem makes it so children can’t learn from consequences, plan effectively, organize, concentrate or remember.

Dispelling the Myths behind Drinking While Pregnant

Dr. Tran says the number one myth is that modest drinking in alcohol is safe to the fetus. This is not true.  

If you had been drinking before you discovered you were pregnant, you should consult with your doctor. Patterns of alcohol use, misuse, or abuse have all contributed to FASD and the more the fetus is exposed to alcohol, the worse the injury will be.

Be sure to steer clear from your friends or family members who say that alcohol is safe.  If someone tells you, “I drank alcohol and nothing happened to my child,” you should be skeptical and seek help for your particular case.

Unfortunately, Dr. Tran says too often doctors have told women that a small amount of alcohol is acceptable.

“Women’s bodies differ significantly in how they process alcohol,” says Dr. Tran. “A woman can never know how much alcohol is reaching her baby.”

The major birth defects from alcohol occur in the first trimester but neurological injury can happen at any time during the pregnancy. There are other factors to consider as well, so consult with your doctor.

If you can remember that FASD is 100% preventable, then you can understand that each drink of alcohol is not worth the possible harmful effect on your unborn child. If you are worried or hesitant to talk to your doctor, take courage and don’t fear. Seeking help is the best decision for you and your unborn child.


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