Is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder a hidden epidemic?

Drinking and smoking are considered a no-no for a woman in the family way. Not just during the pregnancy, but even when she is planning to conceive, she must refrain from consuming alcohol. It must be noted that there is no safe alcohol limit for a pregnant woman, neither there is a safe time to indulge in drinking.

Alcohol in the mother’s blood can get transferred into the unborn baby through the umbilical cord. Drinking can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, including before a woman knows that she’s pregnant. The growth of the body and brain of the baby gets affected if exposed to alcohol, causing long-term problems.

These problems are termed as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), and the most recognized form of it is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). The babies suffering from FAS have distinctive but distorted facial features, are small for their age and have problems with learning.

According to the 2015 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, more than 3 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they were drinking, sexually active and not using birth control. Three in four U.S. women who intend to get pregnant do not stop drinking when they stop using birth control.

CDC principal deputy director Dr. Anne Schuchat said in February 2015 that alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby even before a woman realizes that she is pregnant. She added that 2-5 percent of children may have a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and around 5 percent of American school children may suffer from this disorder.

An article published on the website of U.S. National Library of Medicine on February 2, 2016 highlights some statements and data quoted by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). According to it, one of the leading causes of preventable mental retardation is the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. This disorder is totally avoidable if a woman refrains from drinking during her pregnancy. As many as 40,000 babies are estimated to be born in the U.S. each year with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, making it more common than autism.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a guideline in 2015 saying that there is no amount of alcohol consumption which is safer for a child during pregnancy. It noted that the chances of FASD in a child increases by 12 percent if a mother drinks during the first trimester, as compared to not drinking at all. Even when a pregnant woman limits her consumption to one drink per day, there is always an increased risk of an infant to be mentally unsound.

Effects of FASD and its cure

FASDs can have severe effects on the child – physically and mentally. Some of these are:

  • Difficulty in learning and remembering
  • Understanding and following directions
  • Controlling emotions
  • Communicating and socializing
  • Daily life skills, such as feeding and bathing
  • Low body weight and other physical distortions
  • Problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones
  • Intellectual disability or low IQ

Such conditions can affect each child differently, the symptoms being mild sometimes and severe in many cases.

The National Organization for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders chief executive, Vicki Russell, told the Washington Post in February 2015 that it was important to give advice, rather than stigmatize, all women who drink while being pregnant. They need the support of family, friends and well-wishers to reduce the intake of alcohol. Moreover, their doctors should be proactive in informing them to stop alcohol once they stop taking the birth control pills.

Prevention and treatment

FASDs are difficult to treat, but several researches shows that early interventions can improve a child’s growth and development. There is no one treatment to cure FASD. Behavior and education therapy, coupled with medicines with close monitoring, follow-ups are required to help a child.

But FASD can be avoided totally, only if women can abstain from consuming alcohol when they are pregnant or trying to be pregnant. Certain things are within our discretion and thinking logically by not drinking can help your child grow normally. Motherhood is a very emotional phenomenon; so one should cherish it.

If you need professional help, the Texas Alcohol Addiction Helpline can assist you. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-281-3014 or chat online to learn more about treatment options for alcohol addiction. We can also help you find the best treatment for your child if it’s suffering from FASD.