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The Facts About Alcohol And Pregnancy

alcohol_JRAlcohol consumed during pregnancy is toxic to human development and is the country’s leading known preventable cause of mental retardation and birth defects. Many people have the instinct that women should avoid alcohol during pregnancy, but few realize that alcohol is a teratogen—a neurotoxin like lead or mercury—that can interfere with the healthy physical and functional development of a baby at any stage during pregnancy.
 
Since 1981, the U.S. Surgeon General has advised women to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy due to the risk of birth defects. Last year Surgeon General Richard Carmona reissued the advisory to urge women to abstain from alcohol if they are pregnant or even considering a pregnancy. He also cautioned against moderate drinking. Thirty years of research and nearly 3,000 papers in the medical literature have confirmed the risks.
 
Unfortunately, public myths and misconceptions about alcohol during pregnancy still exist. Contrary to popular assumption, alcohol is far more dangerous during pregnancy than illicit drugs of abuse such as marijuana, heroin and even crack cocaine.
 
The beliefs that if you only drink late in the pregnancy or that wine or beer is okay are also false. There is no known safe time, safe amount or safe kind of alcohol use during pregnancy. Human development is an orderly process that occurs throughout the nine months of gestation. Since we know that alcohol in the blood stream of the mother crosses the placenta reaching the embryo or fetus, any time that alcohol is present it has the potential to be harmful.
 
Some say that small amounts are fine. Doctors and scientists do agree that if a woman has one drink on a couple of occasions during her pregnancy the chance is extraordinarily remote that this would have any effect on her offspring. Then again, if small amounts became one or two drinks weekly or if that one drink is a 24 oz. or 40 oz. drink then the risk increases dramatically.
 
Even those who appreciate the risk often believe that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) rarely occur. Once again the facts: The annual incidence of FASD is greater than that of Downs syndrome, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida and sudden infant death syndrome combined, times two! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that over 125,000 pregnant women each year are heavy or binge drinkers, patterns of consumption that place their infants at serious risk.
 
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term that refers to the wide spectrum of disorders that can occur in an individual prenatally exposed to alcohol. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the most series condition along the spectrum, but it only accounts for approximately one-quarter of all alcohol-related birth defects. Kathy Mitchell, Vice President and National Spokesperson for the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS), explains, “FAS is the tip of the iceberg. Most individuals affected by alcohol are not identified until adolescence or even adulthood, or not at all. They usually don’t have the hallmark facial dysmorphology associated with the full FAS and might have a normal IQ, but they have subtle or even severe learning and behavioral problems.”
 
NOFAS is a national nonprofit public health advocacy organization that is the leading voice and resource of the FASD community. NOFAS strives to raise awareness of the issue, serve families living with the condition and fulfill the promise of prevention. Ms. Mitchell adds, “When I tell people about FASD some say, ‘That’s awful that a women would do that to her baby.’ It is important to remember that some women have a dependence on alcohol and need therapeutic intervention and treatment. That’s the way to prevent future cases of FASD. Increase access to alcohol and substance abuse treatment and reduce the stigmatization of people facing those challenges.”
 
NOFAS President Tom Donaldson offers a common sense approach, “For women who don’t know the facts: Alcohol is toxic to a developing baby. The more a woman drinks the greater the risks to her child. For women dependent on alcohol: Treatment is the best option to preventing FASD. And for women who believe the myths: Why would anyone ingest any amount of a toxic substance that could lead to lifelong birth defects? Why play Russian roulette?”
 
For more information on alcohol and pregnancy and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, contact NOFAS, www.nofas.org or 800 –66-NOFAS. 
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