New Dangers of Drinking While Pregnant

pregnant woman

In January of this year, we learned even more about the effects of drinking on a fetus’s heart.

Case Western University researchers led by Ganga Karunamuni, PhD made use of a new imaging technique called optical coherence tomography, which uses light waves instead of the sound waves used by an ultrasound.  It produces high-resolution images, and has shown us insights into the heart of a fetus that we hadn’t gotten before.

Karanamuni says that even one episode of heavy drinking can cause congenital heart defects, which she calls “among the most life-threatening,” often requiring surgical correction in newborns.

The use of alcohol causes walls separating the four chambers of the heart to become thinner and for the valves to be damaged.  Also, too much blood flows backward through the circuit after each beat.  This demonstrates that it’s not the structure of the heart during pregnancy, but the quality of its function that is the key factor.  This new knowledge of the mechanical workings of the heart and of heart failure both point to the need for and can facilitate further research on congenital heart defects among infants, and—more relevant to us here—on the effects of alcohol on pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

These new findings concerning damage done to a fetus’s heart during pregnancy only further demonstrate how bad it is for an expectant mother to drink.  It’s been no secret, with fetal alcohol syndrome having been an ominous concept for decades.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a term for a large group of symptoms.  They include: facial abnormalities; the baby born too small, with too light a weight; abnormalities of the central nervous system.  The cause for this is quite simple: that the alcohol travels via placental blood flow to the fetus.  This causes the little guy or girl to have blood levels similar to that of the mother, a situation that can’t have effects other than serious damage.

Just as we’re learning unexpected and daunting news about what can happen to a fetus’s heart, we’re also learning more and more about fetal alcohol syndrome, even if it has been known and rightly respected for some time.  What we’re now learning is that it’s much more prevalent than we’d previously expected, which would indicate that its likelihood is greater among women who lose their discipline than we’d known.

A report published on webmd on October 27 outlines an eye-opening, slightly-disturbing study by a group of researched led by a University of North Carolina researcher named Phillip May.  May’s research methods were bold and possibly controversial, the results damning.  He and his team went to a town somewhere in the Midwest which it determined to be representative of America.  They got permission to study roughly 70% of the 2,000 first-graders in the town.  Rather than asking the mothers if they’d drunk while pregnant, which you’d imagine wouldn’t be very successful, they identified poor young scholars who exhibited outward signs of fas; they isolated children who were shorter and weighed less than their peers and who had been identified as having developmental issues.  They gave cognitive tests to these students and to a comparison group.  In so doing, they were able to identify kids who had the hallmark symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome.

The result was that 6-9 of every thousand children were positive, with 11-17 of each 1,000 suffering from partial fetal alcohol syndrome.  It’s a bit alarming to take people at this age and test them in this manner, saddling them with a diagnosis with such a stigma, but that’s what they did, and it’s useful to us.

The researchers weren’t messing around in terms of thoroughness.  From the webmd report:

This study also identified factors that predicted a higher risk that a child would have an FASD. The longer it took a mother to learn she was pregnant, how frequently she drank three months before pregnancy, and the more alcohol the child’s father drank, the more likely it was that the child would have an FASD,the study found.

The researchers further asserted that simply more women are breaking the rule and drinking during pregnancy.  We’re learning more and more about the dangers of doing so.

What About the Dad?

The mother has to bear the responsibility during pregnancy.  But that’s about to change.  We’re not here to bust the chips of females here.  Recent studies have shown that drinking habits of the father at the time the mother was impregnated was a factor in causing fetal alcohol syndrome.

Now, the study involved mice, but that’s an accepted method, and the results showed that the male mice who imbibed in the alcohol gave birth to offspring with FAS, with symptoms such as nervous system damage, retarded intellect, and stunted growth.

Not Drinking While Pregnant

Abstaining from alcohol while pregnant should be very intuitive and really not so hard.  The stakes are high, and the idea should be to realize that the risks are just too great.  One has to understand that you can’t drink early in the pregnancy, or just a little.  There’s no way of knowing what is safe and how and when.

The test is to honor your future child, something that comes very easily to most people.  If the mother has any temptation whatsoever, it’s absolutely crucial to go through strategies similar to those of quitting alcohol.

Photo Credit SummerBl4ck on Flickr