Alcohol and Pregnancy
Any advice for a pregnant alcoholic?
Of course, stop, but how? If she can't stop, she should at least cut
down as much as possible. The big question is what level of
alcohol during pregnancy is safe? The answer is we don't know.
Small amounts of alcohol, especially in late pregnancy, have no ill
effects. So the waitrons have fits and refusing to serve an
obviously pregnant woman a beer are merely uninformed,
self-righteous, busybodies. Not even all alcoholics give birth to
babies with the dreaded fetal alcohol syndrome.
It appears that the affects of alcohol on fetal development are
proportional to the amount and possibly when the fetus is exposed.
Usually, substances that are taken by a pregnant women in the first
trimester have the greatest potential for fetal harm, because this is
when most of the organs are forming. Still, mind-altering drugs
have a tendency to permanently alter a future child's mental
development. The concept of "amount" can be thought of in several
ways. The amount taken in during the whole pregnancy is the most
important amount to be considered. Also the amount taken at one
time is important--so binge drinking can have ill effects, even if the
whole amount during pregnancy is small. Even, the amount of
alcohol over a woman's life may be a factor. A woman alcoholic
has a greater chance of having a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome
with each pregnancy she has.
Here's what happens when a pregnant woman drinks. Alcohol can
pass freely from the woman's bloodstream into the fetus. But,
fetuses do not have the ability to breakdown alcohol that people
do. And it stays in the amniotic fluid, long after it leaves the fetal
blood. The affects of alcohol on the fetus can be low blood sugar,
low insulin levels, and low thyroid levels. This all translates into low
birth weight and higher rates of spontaneous abortion and birth
defects. Fetal Alcohol syndrome is the worst of all this. It is a
syndrome of physical anomalies and retardation.
Compounding the problem of pregnancy and alcoholism are the
other difficulties the woman is likely to have. Tobacco use and
domestic violence and sometimes other substances abuse are
more common in pregnant alcoholics. So these woman have more
than alcohol problems to deal with.
Pregnancy is one of the strongest motivators to kick a habit. There
are special treatment programs for women. These programs will
do a better job of dealing with women's side issue of abuse, like
pregnancy, domestic violence, and all the underlying emotional
issues. They tend to stay away from techniques like confrontation,
or "tough love" that do not work well on most women. Alcoholics
Anonymous is free, chapters are widespread, and they also have
chapters that are for women only. A doctor should always be
involved. Sudden withdrawal from alcohol can also be dangerous
for the pregnant woman and her fetus. Seizures can occur. Here,
the woman needs to act both quickly and carefully. Friends, family,
community mental health workers, telephones crisis hotlines can
assist with finding a doctor who won't be the pregnancy police and
offer the help needed.