The effect of prenatal alcohol exposure Scientific Writing June 2010 The effect of prenatal alcohol exposure Introduction: Alcohol is a drug with a depressant effect. Alcohol can negatively affect your brain, liver, central nervous system, and heart. The immediate effects of alcohol consumption are delayed reflexes and slurred speech. Since it is a depressant, alcohol slows down your brain. Consuming alcohol regularly can also lead to alcoholism. Alcoholism is a long-term chronic disease, it is when you a mentally or physically addicted to alcohol.
Alcohol is a dangerous drug and should be consumed, if at all, under moderation. A teratogen is any agent that can damage a fetus and therefore cause a birth defect. Alcohol is one of the most dangerous teratogens. There is no proven safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Every time a pregnant woman has a drink, the alcohol enters her bloodstream. It crosses the placenta and enters the fetus through the umbilical cord. So every time a pregnant woman has a drink, her baby does too! The blood alcohol level of the fetus is therefore equal to or greater than the blood alcohol level of the mother.
Though the mother can break down the alcohol, the fetus’ underdeveloped body cannot. Thus, it maintains the blood alcohol level for much longer. You can imagine that fetus’ have a very low tolerance for alcohol. Exposure to alcohol affects almost every part of a fetus’ body. The brain, face, ears, eyes, bones, kidney, and heart are all affected by alcohol. It causes blood vessels to constrict and disrupts the blood flow in the placenta. Oxygen and nourishment are thus prevented from entering the developing fetus. Cell deaths caused by alcohol cause different parts of the fetus to develop abnormally.
The development of nerve cells is also affected by alcohol, which may impact the way the brain develops, and functions. The brain is the most vulnerable to alcohol exposure since it is developing throughout pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a life long condition with effects such as mental retardation, growth deficiency, abnormal facial features, and central nervous system problems. It develops in babies whose mother drank excessive levels of alcohol during pregnancy. Since no level of alcohol consumption is considered safe during pregnancy, it is highly recommended not to drink at all.
Surveys shows that approximately 130,000 women have admitted to consuming levels of alcohol where Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is possible. 40,000 women, unfortunately give birth to a baby with suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the most serve of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Babies with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome have central nervous system damage. Since of the prenatal alcohol exposure, the brain cells are either underdeveloped or malformed. It is the number one cause for mental retardation.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome not only causes cognitive disabilities, but also functional disabilities. Unfortunately, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is permanent and incurable. It not only affects the baby, but the family that must raise the baby. One of the symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is growth deficiency. Anyone with a growth deficiency is either underweight, under height, or both. Those who suffer from it fall below the tenth percentile of standardized growth charts. Severe growth deficiency is defined when height and weight are either less than or equal to the third percentile.
Moderate growth deficiency is when the height or the weight is either less than or equal to the third percentile. While mild growth deficiency is when both weight and height are between the third and tenth percentile. “ In classic cases, FAS children grow taller at about 60 percent of the normal rate through early childhood, while their weight increases at about 33 percent of the normal rate. Thus, they appear unusually slender or even malnourished despite an adequate diet. (Jon M Aase, MD 1998) ” The children will remain smaller than ninety percent of other same aged normal children.
Another symptom of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is abnormal facial features. The presence of abnormal facial feature indicates brain damage. Three facial features that are unique to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are a smooth philtrum, thin vermilion, and small palpebral fissures. A smooth philtrum means the groove between the nose and upper lip is flatter than normal. The higher the prenatal alcohol exposure, the flatter the groove. Small palpebral fissure is smaller eye width than normal and thin vermilion is a thinner upper lip. The last symptom of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is central nervous system damage.
There are thee areas to determine the magnitude of central nervous system damage. They are structural, neurological, and functional. Structural abnormalities can be seen such as small head size or abnormal brain structure. Structural abnormalities usually occur during the third trimester of pregnancy when alcohol affects the organization of brain cells. Neurological problems can also affect the peripheral nervous system, which consists of the somatic and autonomic nervous system. Some Neurological problems are seizure, impaired motor skills, clumsiness, and horrible hand- eye coordination.
Functional problems are often referred to as development disabilities such as learning disabilities, etc. During the third trimester of pregnancy, the hippocampus can be damaged. The hippocampus is the major component of the brain in mammal and responsible for memory, emotion, decoding visual and auditory data, and learning. Damage of the hippocampus usually results in neurological and functional problems. The only way to prevent Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is to not drink during pregnancy. “ A mother must be a heavy drinker throughout her pregnancy in order for her baby to be diagnosed with FAS.
Drinking during the first trimester of pregnancy produces the facial abnormalities characteristic of FAS. Drinking during the second and third trimesters affects growth. Drinking during the third trimester results in dysfunction of the nervous system, mental retardation and learning/behavior deficiencies. ( Mesa 1997) ” Breast-feeding while pregnant is also a big no-no. Breast milk retains small amounts of alcohol and while breast feeding it is passed onto the baby. Babies with mother’s who consumed small amounts of alcohol were shown to have trouble acquiring motor skills.
Mother’s who consume large amounts of alcohol may altogether lose the ability to breast-feed. The ejection of milk from the breast will become difficult. It is recommended to wait two hours if you do have a drink before breast-feeding for the best health of the baby. There are many other birth defects a baby can suffer from other than Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Prenatal Alcohol Exposures may cause a heart murmur in a baby. A murmur is an unusual sound heard from the heart caused by leaking valve. Another condition is Strabismus. This is when the eyes are not properly aligned. Cleft lip is also another abnormality. Prenatal exposure to alcohol can damage a fetus at any time, causing problems that persist throughout the individual’s life. There is no known safe level of alcohol use in pregnancy. (US Health Dept 2007) ” So alcohol should be completely avoided during pregnancy. References http://casaa. unm. edu/fas/FAS-Clin. html http://www. mc. maricopa. edu/dept/d46/psy/dev/fall00/Substance/fas. html http://www. cdc. gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use. html http://www. mayoclinic. com/health/fetal-alcohol-syndrome/ds00184 http://www. marchofdimes. com/professionals/14332_1170. asp#head1 www. cdc. gov/ncbddd/fas/fasprev. htm