The testimony of Melissa, published on the web site of the US Centre for Disease Control, is one everyone woman intending to get pregnant, or those who already are, should mull over and over again. Actually, not just expectant women and those planning to have babies, the lot of us. You, me and everyone.
Melissa’s doctor said it was okay to have a glass or two of wine even during pregnancy. You know, health experts often say a glass of red wine is perfect for the body. But hey, do not fall for that sweet scent and taste…
… because there is absolutely no guaranteed safe level of alcohol use at any time during your pregnancy or even when you’re trying to get pregnant.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of birth defects. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with your baby’s life. The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 30 per cent of women drink alcohol during pregnancy.
And, for the temptation to sip that win or brew or froth, babies are being born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Others might have alcohol-related neuro-developmental disorder. But tomorrow is the International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day (FASD), so this is our focus.
Every year, on September 9, International FASD Awareness Day is observed. Proclamations are issued in all around the world. Bells are rung at 9:09am. People all around the world gather for events to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and the plight of individuals and families who struggle with FASD.
It is almost 40 years since the world recognised that drinking during pregnancy can result in a wide range of disabilities for children, of which fetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe.
The first FASDay was celebrated on 9/9/99. This day was chosen so that on the ninth day of the ninth month of the year, the world will remember that during the nine months of pregnancy a woman should abstain from alcohol. But anytime is a good time to raise awareness about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
The disabilities associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can persist throughout life and place heavy emotional and financial burdens on people with the condition, their families, and society.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders often bring to mind the distinct pattern of facial features associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, such as wide-set and narrow eyes, a smooth ridge on the upper lip, and a thin upper lip border.
We now understand, however, that the neurobehavioural effects associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, such as intellectual disabilities, speech and language delays, and poor social skills, can exist without the classic defining facial characteristics.
Dr Joseph Mucumbitsi, a paediatric cardiologist, says expectant mothers have to be extremely careful with the amount of alcohol they take.
“Copying with excessive alcohol is adults has been something that doctors have managed to curb but among children, it’s still a challenge,” he said as he emphasised that there isn’t treatment for children suffering from FASD.
The thing is, when you drink, your baby drinks, too. And, sadly, you may not know right away if your child has been affected. FASDs include a range of physical and intellectual disabilities that are not always easy to identify when a child is a newborn. Some of these effects may not be known until your child is in school.
According to Dr Mucumbitsi, a child that develops this syndrome and suffers it’s severe effects can’t be treated but rather put in a school of the mentally disabled where he can get assistance to cope with life and study.
Dr Alex Butera, an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Rwanda Military Hospital, Kanombe, says the sole risk factor of FASD is maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.
“Research had proven that when an expectant mother takes more than 14 alcoholic drinks a week, then she is putting her child at risk of getting FASD though we advise mothers not to take any alcohol at all,” he said
“Alcohol is a teratogenic substance which crosses the placenta with ease. Development of the fetus can be affected by alcohol at any stage.”
Just stop alcohol
Dr Butera said a child who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome may suffer from several physical defects like a small head or small face, intellectual or cognitive disabilities, and problems functioning and coping with daily life.
He advises mothers with fear for this syndrome affecting their babies to try to talk openly with their doctor if they have had alcohol while you’re pregnant. The earlier the doctor gets to know, the better the chances of avoiding the syndrome.
Like Melissa testifies, “My doctor never asked me if I had a drinking problem, or how many drinks I have a day, or if I binge drink. I really wish that my doctor would have had more dialogue or asked me questions about drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
“If a pregnant woman said to me, ‘I drink a little bit here and there and I was told it was okay,’ I would tell her that she wouldn’t if she had to live just one day with the way that I feel about myself, knowing how my son has been affected by my choices.”
FASDs are 100 per cent preventable. By not drinking, you have the power to improve your child’s chances of a healthy start. The sooner you stop drinking, the better it will be for both you and your baby. If you are pregnant and have been drinking, talk to your doctor or nurse.
There is no cure for FASDs. However, identifying children with these conditions as early as possible can help them to reach their full potential.
The message is simple, not just on September 9, but every day. There is no known safe level of drinking while pregnant. Women who are, who may be, or who are trying to become pregnant, should not drink alcohol.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of birth defects.
Up to 30 per cent of women drink alcohol during pregnancy. Some of their babies might be born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Others might have alcohol-related neuro-developmental disorder.
Alcohol can cause problems for your unborn baby throughout your pregnancy, including before you know you are pregnant.
All kinds of alcohol should be avoided, including red or white wine, beer, and liquor. If you are pregnant and have been drinking, it’s never too late to stop.
You may not know right away if your child has been affected. FASDs include a range of physical and intellectual disabilities that are not always easy to identify in a newborn. Some of these effects may not be known until your child is in school.