Alcohol and Pregnancy

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Say hello to your growing baby bump and wave goodbye to all those alcoholic treats. Alcohol and pregnancy just don’t mix and there are good reasons why.

WORDS NURULHUDA SUHAIMI

Are you thinking about having one or two glasses of wine or champagne during dinner later tonight? Well, if you are pregnant, you might want to think twice about that. Everyone knows drinking alcohol is extremely discouraged for pregnant women because of the negative effects alcohol can have on the baby. Some may think the occasional drink during pregnancy is completely fine, but there is no definitive conclusion as to exactly how much alcohol is harmful to the baby. Considering alcohol can cause permanent negative consequences to the baby, it is better to err on the side of caution and skip alcoholic drinks altogether.

Why is Alcohol Dangerous?
Women are advised not to consume any alcohol during their pregnancy because the alcohol can be passed on to the baby. “Alcohol crosses the placenta and reaches the baby’s blood,” explains associate consultant Dr Yang Liying, Dept of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, SGH, “It may remain in the baby’s blood for a longer period of time as babies have lower levels of enzymes that break down alcohol in their bloodstream.” The enzyme mainly responsible for breaking down alcohol is found in the liver cells, and since your baby’s liver will only start to form during the later weeks of your first trimester, the alcohol will remain in your baby’s blood longer. This can increase the risks of premature labour, stillbirth and miscarriage.

The alcohol passed on to your baby can also affect his brain development as your baby’s brain is developing throughout the entire pregnancy and the alcohol ingested can prevent your baby from receiving enough
oxygen and nutrients for his brain to develop properly.

There are also long-term and/or irreversible effects, which can be classified under the term Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).    

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
FASD is a general term used to describe the range of effects that can occur in a baby who has been affected by prenatal alcohol exposure. According to Dr Yang, FASD develops in babies whose mothers were heavy or binge drinkers during their pregnancy. There is a wide variety of problems associated with FASD, ranging from physical, emotional, behavioural and intellectual problems.

FASD can be divided into four types of conditions: Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (PFAS), Neurobehavioural Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE), and Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND). The extent of the different problems brought on by FASD ranges from mild to severe, depending on the condition the baby has.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome
FAS is considered to be the most severe condition of FASD as the effects are life-long and irreversible. According to Dr Christopher Chong, obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital, babies with FAS can be born with abnormal facial features such as a small head, wide-set eyes, thin upper lip, and a smooth ridge between the upper lip and nose. “Babies may also have lower intelligence, attention problems, learning disorders, smaller size and height, hyperactivity problems, eyesight problems, and organ problems (e.g. the heart),” says Dr Chong. Babies with FAS may display a range of these effects, but they may not necessarily appear during infancy. Some conditions, such as your child’s facial features, may be more obvious when your child is still an infant, whereas other conditions like behavioural and intellectual ones may only surface when your child reaches adolescence or even adulthood.

Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome
Babies with PFAS may present similar symptoms as those with FAS, with the exception of the physical effects of FAS. Unlike babies with FAS, those with PFAS may either be of normal or shorter than average height and have only a few of the facial deformities seen in those with FAS.

Neurobehavioural Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure
The effects of ND-PAE will typically present themselves when your child is older. Individuals with ND-PAE do not have facial features characteristic of FAS, but they may experience difficulties with their cognitive (thinking and memory), behavioural as well as life and social skills. Some examples of these difficulties are: your child may easily forget things he has learned in school, he may display behavioural problems such as irritability or he may find it hard to shift his attention from one thing to another, and your child may struggle with daily routines such as bathing and have problems playing with other children.

Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorder
Like ND-PAE, the effects of ARND will arise when your child is older. There are no facial deformities associated with ARND, but this condition may cause those afflicted with it to have intellectual problems as well as difficulties in behaviour and learning. For instance, your child may perform poorly in school, have poor impulse control, as well as have issues with memory, judgment and attention.

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