More Kids Harmed by Drinking in Pregnancy Than Expected, Study Reports

More Kids Harmed by Drinking in Pregnancy Than Expected, Study Reports

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders may affect up to 5 percent of U.S. children.

There is a new report out this month that suggests that as many as one in 20 U.S. children may have health or behavioral problems related to alcohol exposure before birth. Especially these days, when "everyone knows" not to drink during pregnancy, the numbers are higher than anyone expected. "Knowing not to drink during pregnancy and not doing so are two different things," especially before a woman knows she is pregnant, said lead researcher Philip May, a professor of public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Findings from the study were reported online Oct. 27 and in the November print issue of Pediatrics. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is at the most severe end of the spectrum of conditions resulting from drinking mothers.

These conditions include abnormal facial features, structural brain abnormalities, growth problems and behavioral issues. Children on the milder end of conditions resulting from pre-natal alcohol use still suffer from things like impairment in the ability to complete tasks required to do well in school or other behavioral issues. Knowing this, why would any pregnant woman take even one drink? Dr. Lana Popova, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and an assistant professor of epidemiology and of social work at the University of Toronto says, "There is no safe amount of alcohol or safe time to drink during pregnancy, or when planning on becoming pregnant. If a woman is unaware of her pregnancy, for whatever reason, she should discontinue drinking immediately upon pregnancy recognition." The study also found other alcohol factors that contribute to the potential severity of problems children might have.

The longer it took a mother to learn she was pregnant, how frequently she drank three months before pregnancy, and the more alcohol the child's father drank, the more likely it was that the child would have negative effects, were part of the findings. Dr. Popova also cites two contributing factors to these unexpected percentages: a high number of unplanned pregnancies and a need to improve access to effective substance abuse treatment programs for women of childbearing age.

Over the years, we have always regularly received phone calls from pregnant women and it is our heartbreak that we can not help an already pregnant woman detox off of alcohol. So we work very hard to get the word out to women to please, please confront and handle alcohol problems before risking getting pregnant. As Dr. Janet Williams, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio observed: "Alcohol is a neurotoxin, and alcohol exposure is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and intellectual and neuro-developmental disabilities. So why is it worth experimenting with your child?"

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