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.

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