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Pregnancy and alcohol- One drink and your baby may not see the world

By Vision Reporter

Added 18th April 2010 03:00 AM

MANY people, believe that alcohol, rather than harm is good for both the mother and baby. As a result, quite a number of children suffer from disorders resulting from the exposure to alcohol while in the womb.

MANY people, believe that alcohol, rather than harm is good for both the mother and baby. As a result, quite a number of children suffer from disorders resulting from the exposure to alcohol while in the womb.

By Anthony Olwoch

MANY people, believe that alcohol, rather than harm is good for both the mother and baby. As a result, quite a number of children suffer from disorders resulting from the exposure to alcohol while in the womb.

Dr. Jamiir Mugalu, a neonatologist/paedetrician at the Department of Paediatrics, Mulago Hospital, says when a mother takes alcohol during pregnancy, she predisposes the unborn baby to malformation.

Collectively, the range of disorders that the baby will suffer is referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).
Though foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are preventable, many women continue to drink either ignorantly or intentionally (sometimes in small quantities).

The more a woman drinks alcohol while pregnant, the greater the risk to the unborn baby.

Dr. Wilberforce Kigongo Sekirime, a consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist and Public health specialist at Case Medical Centre, warns that there is no safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy.

It is recommended for a woman not to drink alcohol when pregnant or when trying to get pregnant.

During the first three months of pregnancy, majority of women may not be aware they are pregnant. Abstaining from alcohol during such periods cuts down the risk of causing harm to the unborn baby even before you realise you are pregnant.

Alcohol effects on the baby
When a a pregnant woman takes alcohol, it is carried in the bloodstream from the mother to the foetus through the placenta.

The foetus metabolises alcohol more slowly than an adult, thus resulting in a higher blood alcohol concentration than the mother.

Dr. Mugalu says alcohol disrupts the receptors on the baby’s cells where the hormones attach, affecting their intracellular signaling mechanism and reduces DNA thesis, which in turn reduces protein thesis.

When this occurs in many cells of the developing baby, it leads to malformation of the different organs.

Alcohol affects differentiation and migration of cells into different tissues, resulting in intra-uterine growth retardation and chronic fetal hypoxia (tissues developing without adequate oxygen supply).

FASD symptoms in children
Dr. Mugalu says a number of signs and symptoms of this condition varies from child to child.

Heart defects, deformities of joints, limbs and fingers.
Small head circumference or head size.

Abnormal facial features (small eyes, an exceptionally thin upper lip, the groove between the nose and upper lip flattens).

Vision difficulties or hearing problems.
Reduced birth weight and height and slow physical development after birth.
Permanent central nervous system damage, especially to the brain.

Effects on brain and learning ability
Developing brain cells and structures are underdeveloped, often resulting in an array of primary cognitive and functional disabilities like poor memory, short attention span, impulsive behaviour, poor cause-effect reasoning, hyperactivity, extreme nervousness and anxiety.

Children affected by this condition have distractibility, poor or gross movement skills, poor attention, lack of organisational skills, poor peer relations, problems with concrete thinking and they are easily frustrated.

The risk of brain damage exists during each trimester, since the fetal brain develops throughout the pregnancy.
The defects that are a part of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are irreversible. The physical defects and behavioural deficiencies persist for a lifetime.

Dr. Mugalu stresses that 25% to 30% of the heart defects reported are caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. The commonest of which include:

A hole between the two ventricles (ventricular septal defect)
A hole between the two atria (arterial septal defect)
Patent ductus arteriosus, a condition in which a vessel (ductus artery) which originally carries blood from the body of the fetus to the lungs, fails to close immediately after birth and stops blood from going to the lungs. Consequently, the baby becomes blue and can die.

“These heart problems can be corrected by surgery,” adds Dr. Mugalu.
It is advisable to seek medical advice when you drank before realising that you are pregnant or if you are drinking while pregnant.

Early diagnosis reduces the risk of long-term problems while children with learning problems may be helped by special services in school.
Parents often benefit from counselling to help the family with a child’s behaviour problems.

Alcohol and breastmilk
Dr. Mugalu says alcohol also limits milk let down reflex and also causes milk to disappear early. That is why many women complain about lacking milk in their breasts after a few months and resort to other supplements.

He advises mothers not to breastfeed in the first two to three hours after drinking because it causes weakness, drowsiness and affects motor development (though it disappears from 18 months) in the baby.

Prevention tips
Get help if you have an alcohol problem. Seek counselling, join a treatment programme and avoid getting pregnant until you overcome the problem.

Stop drinking if you are planning to become pregnant.
Avoid alcohol throughout your pregnancy.

Consider giving up alcohol during your child bearing years.

Coping and support
Support from professionals and families who have an experience with the condition can be of great help.

Point out and use rewards to reinforce acceptable behaviour.
Teach your child skills for daily living.
Create and enforce simple rules and limits.

Implement daily routines to which your child can become accustomed.
A stable, nurturing home is important in protecting children with FASD from some problems they are at risk of later in life, for instance dropping out of school and drug abuse.

Pregnancy and alcohol- One drink and your baby may not see the world

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