The Dangers of Drinking While Pregnant

The Dangers of Drinking While Pregnant

Although several ancient cultures warned women against drinking alcohol while pregnant, suggesting that some link had been noted between drinking and infant health problems, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was not formally studied until the 1960’s. At this time, researchers in the US and Europe began to notice certain shared characteristics between children whose mothers were alcoholics, already if the children were not related. The first characteristics to be noted were hyperactivity and certain facial features, although more were later discovered.

By the late 1970s, alcohol was officially recognized by medical institutions in the US and Europe as a teratogen, meaning a substance that can cause birth deformities. The syndrome that it can cause in the infants of heavily drinking mothers was named by University of Washington dysmorphologists Dr. Kenneth Lyons Jones and Dr. David W. Smith in 1978. Some researchers have broadened the label to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to adjust to the different kinds of symptoms that children show.

Different medical institutions around the world use different guidelines for diagnosing this serious problem. Although they may differ in details, they all agree on the three basic traits that a child exposed to ethanol must have to be diagnosed with FAS.

Facial Features

The rare facial types resulting from FAS may be the disorder’s best known syndrome. There are three basic facial features, which can range from moderate to harsh, associated with this disorder. They are a smooth philtrum (the groove running from the nose to the top of the upper lip), an unusually thin upper lip, and eyes that are set unusually far apart. In some ways, these features are diagnostically the least important; a child with alcohol-related brain damage may look perfectly typical.

Growth Deficiency

Doctors prefer to use length and weight of a child at its birth to diagnose this syndrome, but if that information is not obtainable more recent information can be used. However, using a child’s current weight as a diagnostic criterion can be complicated, as it is difficult to show that the child’s small size is not caused by another factor such as poor nutrition.

Central Nervous System Damage

The most devastating symptoms of this disorder are caused by the damage alcohol can do to a forming brain. The amount of damage caused to a fetus exposed to ethanol may vary depending on many different factors: time of exposure, duration of exposure, amount of alcohol, and perhaps genetic predisposition. Symptoms can include hyperactivity and developmental disorders.

At this time very little is known about how much or when a pregnant woman can drink without damaging the fetus. For this reason, pregnant women are strongly promoted not to drink at all.

For information about Texas laws related to alcohol, contact Dallas DWI attorney Mark Lassiter.

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