According to research, fetal alcohol syndrome is a leading cause of mental retardation or intellectual disability in the western world. This is a term used to describe alcohol use and other lifestyle choices made by a mother during her pregnancy which has multiple negative impacts on a fetus in the womb as well as through life.
Causes of fetal alcohol syndrome or FAS
We know that the alcohol crosses the placental barrier and passes from the mother to her unborn baby. The main cause of FAS is consumption of wine, beer, or any type of alcohol or liquor during pregnancy; what is known as Prenatal Alcohol Exposure.
This interrupts and disrupts proper fetal development; both physical and mental. The damage to the brain and physical development is an ongoing process so alcohol consumption at any time during pregnancy could cause problems.
The fact is that many pregnant women do drink alcohol even though the possible consequences are well known.
About 30% of pregnant women admit to consuming alcohol at some point during their pregnancy and the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome is known to be about .2 to 1.5 per one thousand live births.
When a woman drinks alcohol it crosses the placenta and enters the baby’s blood stream. This causes the alcohol concentrations in the baby to become quite high and the immature bodily systems of the baby are slow to metabolize the alcohol. This interferes with the proper delivery of oxygen to the developing central nervous system and other organs of the baby.
It isn’t just the alcohol that directly causes mental and physical impairment, but also the fact that the body reacts in certain ways that adds to the problem. The metabolizing of the alcohol produces certain by products that results in insufficient development and improper placement of the fetal neurons, causing fetal alcohol syndrome.
Sometimes a woman may not be aware that she is pregnant; especially in the very early stages of pregnancy and conditions that give rise to FAS may actually be accidental. The problems can be acute however since some very vital and basic developmental processes are ongoing during the first part of pregnancy which can be impaired.
Risk factors of fetal alcohol syndrome
Prenatal alcohol exposure is subject to a lot of research and many studies, with some arriving at various different conclusions. While many studies have found that some moderate amount of drinking is OK and at least one study has found that some instances of drinking alcohol could actually be good for the baby’s behavioral development, numerous studies have opined that no drinking is OK during pregnancy.
The fact is that there is no clearly defined limit of what amount of alcohol is safe to have during pregnancy and most experts and authorities advice that women should err on the side of caution here. Abstinence is the key to preventing fetal alcohol syndrome so if it is possible women should completely give up drinking for the duration of pregnancy as well as when they are breast feeding.