Alcohol While Pregnant? Even Small Amounts Could Cause Birth Defects

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Women who drink alcohol while pregnant could increase the possibility of birth defects. Although it is widely known that excessive amounts of alcohol can cause serious birth defects, smaller amounts, in moderation, are commonly believed to be safe. Recent studies, however, suggest pregnant women should refrain from drinking alcohol — in any amount.

Fetal alcohol syndrome disorders are identified by specific groups of symptoms, which commonly occur together in infants and children whose mothers consumed alcohol while pregnant.

As discussed by the United States Surgeon General, “alcohol can damage a fetus at any stage of pregnancy, even before she knows that she is pregnant.” Unlike may conditions that cause birth defects, fetal alcohol syndrome disorders are preventable.

The devastating symptoms can include stunted growth, unusual facial features, and an impaired nervous system. As a result of the primary symptoms, patients may experience increased mental health issues and may attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.

There are three different disorders that are caused by women drinking alcohol while pregnant. They are collectively classified as fetal alcohol syndrome disorders.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the most traumatic of the three disorders. In the most severe cases, FAS causes fetal death. Those who survive are often plagued with physical abnormalities, inhibited growth, and learning disabilities.

Alcohol-Related Birth Defects are not as common as FAS. However, ARBD can be equally devastating — as the disorder affects major organs, including the the heart.

Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder does not cause physical abnormalities. However, patients are likely to experience learning disabilities and behavioral issues.

As discussed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women who consume alcohol while pregnant could be risking fetal alcohol syndrome disorders — regardless of the amount she drinks.

“There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy. Alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, including before a woman knows she’s pregnant. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer.”

Although many women stop drinking alcohol while pregnant, others believe it is safe to consume smaller amounts of alcohol in moderation. The confusion likely stems from two different studies — which came to very different conclusions.

In 2010, scientists with the University College London department of epidemiology concluded “children born to mothers who drank not more than 1 or 2 units of alcohol per week” did not suffer any ill effects caused by their mother’s alcohol use during pregnancy.

As reported by Live Science, the researchers further determined “children born to light drinkers were actually found to perform better on cognitive tests than mothers who abstained entirely… ”

In stark contrast, research conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which was published on Monday, suggests “no amount of alcohol intake should be considered safe.”

Although there are no cures for fetal alcohol syndrome disorders, doctors have identified treatment options — which may ease the symptoms.

Treatment for FASDs may include medication, behavior modification, and therapy. Unfortunately, these treatments do not work for all children — as the symptoms may vary greatly depending on the severity of the disorder.

Doctors have also identified “protective factors,” which may increase the success of individual treatment plans. The factors include early diagnosis, a loving and nurturing home — free from abuse or violence, and interaction with social service organizations.

Unfortunately, children suffering with FASDs experience lifelong symptoms that can affect every aspect of their lives.

Despite prior studies that suggest otherwise, most doctors, including the United States Surgeon General, agree women should not consume alcohol while pregnant — under any circumstances.

[Image via Valua Vitaly/Shutterstock]