Will you drink alcoholic beverages while you are pregnant?
When you drink an alcoholic beverage, the alcohol is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. The alcohol circulates in the blood until it is completely broken down by the liver. It may take more than an hour for the liver to break down the alcohol in one mixed drink, glass of wine or can of beer. If you are pregnant, the alcohol in your bloodstream passes through the placenta to the baby so that when you have a drink, the baby has one equal in strength. Because of the baby’s size and its developing system, this “drink” of alcohol can be more harmful to the baby than to you.
What kind of harm can alcohol do to my unborn baby?
A woman who drinks alcohol during pregnancy risks giving birth to an abnormal child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). A child born with FAS has a pattern of mental and physical defects.
Growth deficiency is one of the most common physical defects of FAS. Most infants with FAS weigh less and are shorter than normal infants. The head size is smaller than normal too. These youngsters never catch up to normal growth and will always be smaller than other children of the same age.
FAS babies may have malformed faces. They have narrow eyes, low nasal bridges, short upturned noses and thin upper lips. Many of these babies also have heart and joint abnormalities.
Mental retardation is the most serious mental defect associated with FAS. In Seattle, Washington where much of the research on FAS has taken place, FAS has been reported to be the third most frequently recognized disorder involving retardation. It seems that intellectual development is related to physical malformation – the most severely malformed children also have the greatest intellectual handicap. Many FAS children are poorly coordinated and have short attention spans and behavioral problems.
None of these defects corrects itself as the child grows older.
Is FAS something new?
It has been known for years that babies of chronic alcoholics are born weak and sickly. Even in Biblical and early Greek literature, a woman was warned not to drink wine or strong drinks after she conceived her child. Since 1973 the pattern of physical and mental defects, called FAS, has been associated with the offsprings of chronic alcoholic mothers.
How common is FAS?
It is uncertain to what extent FAS is found in the United States. In Seattle, it is estimated that one child out of 900 live births has FAS. Research studies indicate that many babies are at risk because nine out of ten women drink regularly (one cocktail every night). It is estimated that there are more than one million alcoholic women of childbearing age. And the number is growing. . .particularly among teenagers.
Babies born to teenagers who drink heavily are at double the risk. Since the teenager herself is a growing individual, her body needs nutrients for her own growth. The unborn child also needs nutrients for development. In a teenage pregnancy, both mother and baby are at risk – the mother puts additional stress on her body and the baby has an increased chance of being born too small or too soon. If the fetus is also subjected to excessive alcohol from the mother, the child may suffer some characteristics of FAS.
How much alcohol places the fetus at risk?
Research to establish the amount of alcohol that places the fetus at risk is still in progress. The full syndrome has been found in babies born to mothers who drink four to five drinks a day, or who go on binges of extreme alcohol consumption. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Some babies are born with defects when the mother consumes much less than four or five drinks a day.
Animal research indicates that there is a direct relationship between the amount of alcohol a mother drinks and the amount of damage the baby suffers. Babies have been born at lower birth weights and with some signs of physical defects when the mother consumed two or three drinks a day while pregnant. A baby may suffer behavioral and learning problems throughout life when the mother drinks only one or two drinks a day while pregnant.
Since women vary in their ability to break down alcohol, and because even one drink a day may harm an unborn child, the wise thing to do is to eliminate alcohol from the diet while pregnant. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a tragedy that can be prevented.
What effect would alcohol have on the fetus if I ate while drinking?
Drinking on a full stomach slows down the rate at which alcohol enters the bloodstream. The presence of fat in the stomach slows absorption of alcohol. However, there is no safe way to estimate how slowly to drink or how much to eat to ensure the baby’s safety. The safe thing to do is to avoid drinking alcohol while pregnant.
Will the fetus be affected with FAS if the father is an alcoholic? That may sound like a silly question – but it isn’t. We know that the alcohol in the mother’s bloodstream may affect the growing fetus. But we don’t know yet if alcohol consumed by the father might affect the condition of the sperm and then affect cell division and growth after conception.
What about the rest of my diet? What should I eat while I’m pregnant?
Eliminating alcohol from the diet when you are pregnant is a precaution you take for the health of your baby. But, also important for your health and for the health of your baby is good nutrition throughout pregnancy. You will have to increase your food intake because now you have a growing fetus inside of you. If you are a pregnant teenager, your needs are greater than for a pregnant adult because you yourself are still growing, plus you have to provide nutrients for a growing fetus. A guide to good eating is provided. Good luck. Have a healthy baby.
Guide to Good Eating During Pregnancy
Milk-Cheese Group – 3 servings (Pregnant Teens: add 1 serving)
Count as 1 serving: 1 cup milk, 1 1/2 cup cottage cheese; 2 cups ice cream; 2, 1-inch cubes cheese.
Meat, Poultry, Fish and Beans – 3 servings
Count as one serving: 2 to 3 ounces meat, fish or poultry; 2 eggs; 2 slices lunch meat; 4 Tbls. peanut butter; 1 cup kidney, pinto or garbanzo beans.
Fruit Group – 3 servings (Pregnant Teens: add 1 serving)
Count as 1 serving: 3/4 cup juice; 1 medium banana, apple or orange.
Vegetable Group – 4 servings (Pregnant Teens: add 1 serving)
Count as 1 serving: 1/2 cup cooked vegetables; 1 cup raw leafy vegetables; 3/4 cup juice.
Include every day:
1 rich Vitamin C source such as citrus fruit and 1 dark green leafy vegetable.
Bread and Cereals Group – 9 servings (Pregnant Teens: add 1 to 2
Count as 1 serving: 1 slice bread; 1-ounce ready-to-eat cereal; 1/2 to 3/4 cup cooked cereal or pasta.
Fats, Oils and Sweets Group – Use Sparingly
Count as 1 serving: 1 Tbl. corn, safflower or cottonseed oil used in cooking or in salad dressing; 1 Tbl. butter or margarine.
Cakes, pies, cookies, soft drinks, sugar, honey, candy, jams, jellies, gravies, butter, sour cream – Save these to eat only if you need extra calories after eating the basic needed foods.
Eliminate alcohol from the diet while pregnant.
|Food Guide Pyramid|
|A Guide to Daily Food Choices when Pregnant|
|Fats, Oils and Sweets||Use Sparingly|
|Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group||3 Servings|
|Vegetable Group||4 Servings|
|Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group||3 Servings|
|Fruit Group||3 Servings|
|Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group||9 Servings|