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If you are pregnant and drinking, beware. Your baby may be in danger. When a pregnant mother drinks alcohol, the baby may develop both psychological and physical problems. Babies may show decreased cognitive abilities, delayed development and varying physical problems including poor growth, small eyes, and small head. When such problems are observed in babies when the pregnant mother had consumed alcohol, the condition is called fetal alcohol syndrome.

A new study as reported in a science news magazine shows that little progress has occurred for early detection or treatment of fetal alcohol syndrome. “Although there is a lot of research in the field to determine how alcohol acts on the developing brain, there is not much translation into the clinic,” said Sahar Ismail, one of the authors of the research published in a recent edition of Developmental Neuroscience.

The effects seen in fetal alcohol syndrome can be dramatic and irreversible. Alcohol is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation, according to the study.

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, alcohol is passed from the blood of the mother to the fetus through the umbilical cord, which connects the fetal blood circulation with maternal blood. Therefore, to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome in the babies, women are not advised to drink while pregnant. Women should also not drink alcohol if they are planning to become pregnant.

Children of mothers who had alcohol while pregnant are unlikely to have normal brain development. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can also result in miscarriage or premature birth. Even in the absence of fetal alcohol exposure, premature babies may face severe health problems. Alcohol use has been shown to be most harmful during the first trimester of pregnancy.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the Government of the United States, there is no safe quantity of alcohol to drink while pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink and no safe kind of alcohol. This could be the reason why CDC urges pregnant women not to drink alcohol any time during pregnancy.

The best way is to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is to avoid drinking alcohol while pregnant.

A Preventable Tragedy

Congenital disabilities are a potentially tragic outcome to pregnancy. It can be heart-breaking to have a child who suffers from a congenital or genetic abnormality. But more tragic still is when a child suffers from a preventable defect, an abnormality caused because of the mother’s life decisions. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is such a disorder, one that affects the children of mothers who drank alcohol during their pregnancy, and one that can seriously diminish the life potential and happiness of the children who suffer from it.

The Cause

Drinking causes FAS during pregnancy, which can cause the alcohol to cross the placental barrier, affecting the growth and development of the fetus. Worryingly, about 30% of American women admit to drinking at some point during their pregnancy, with as many as 15% of pregnant women admitting to having ingested alcohol recently.

Because the brain continues to grow and develop throughout each trimester, there is no safe time to drink during a pregnancy. If you do drink, you run the risk of permanently damaging your child. Virtually all medical health professionals agree that you should, under no circumstances, drink alcohol during your pregnancy.

The Effects

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a serious problem. It can damage the brain and the nervous system, with long-term damage to cognitive abilities and behavioral regularity. FAS causes’ permanent, irreversible damage to the central nervous system, and frequently results in the victim having decreased intelligence, bad memory, attention issues, anger management problems, and poor cause-and-effect reasoning.

FAS is the number-one cause of mental retardation in the developed world. As many as two births out of 1000 in the United States are affected by the disorder; while this number may sound slight, it is significantly higher than the number of Down syndrome or spinal bifida cases.

The long-term effects are equally tragic. Adults who suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are more likely to suffer from addictive tendencies of their own later in life, with drug and alcohol addictions being the norm rather than the exception.

The cost of FAS is borne by all of us. It is estimated that the lifetime social costs to a child suffering from FAS are $800,000. The non-monetary costs are also high, as is the personal toll the disorder takes on family and friends.

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