Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: What You Should Know

Today is International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day. Lately, it seems like every day has been labelled something different: "Cheese Pizza Day," "National Iguana Awareness Day," "Wonderful Weirdos Day." It's easy to overlook days that have actual significance. However, I implore you to take a closer look at today, because the message behind this awareness campaign can and will change lives.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a serious condition that can happen as a result of a woman drinking at any point in her pregnancy. It is also the leading preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disorders in this country, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Some claim that the potential dangers of alcohol to the fetus are already well-known. The information about fetal alcohol syndrome has been common knowledge for almost 40 years. The truth is that drinking during pregnancy remains a serious problem in the U.S. The NIH conducted a recent study in which 1 out of every 13 pregnant women report drinking in the last month, and, of those women, 1 in 6 report binge drinking in that time period. That is, quite frankly, startling. We need to continue to spread the word about the dangers of drinking while pregnant.

Unfortunately, there has been conflicting information from the media on whether drinking during pregnancy is safe. Some women are writing about how they drank during their pregnancies and everyone turned out fine. The Stir has a list of "7 Celeb Moms Who Drank While They Were Pregnant." A Danish study came out and reported that expectant mothers who drank one glass of wine a week had children with better mental health. Despite these findings, even the author of that study believes that women shouldn't drink during pregnancy. "I really think we should recommend abstaining [from drinking] during pregnancy. "I really believe that even a glass of wine now and again is really damaging," study co-author Janni Niclasen, a post-doctoral student at the University of Copenhagen, told Today.com. Overall, "there are simply not enough studies out there for us to feel confident that drinking during pregnancy is safe," says Eve Espey, M.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico and a spokesperson for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

If you are trying to conceive, the best thing you can do is to stop drinking now. The earlier exposure to alcohol occurs in the fetus, the greater the chance of more serious damage. "The best choice when planning a pregnancy is to abstain -- there is no safe alcohol, no safe time, and no safe amount," says Kathy Mitchell, vice president and spokesperson for the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS).

This is what is important to consider: It is worth it to drink if there is a possibility that it could affect your unborn child? Babies born with FASD have neurobehavioral issues, such as intellectual disabilities, speech and language delays, and poor social skills. You only have to abstain from alcohol for 9 months. The disabilities associated with FASD will last a lifetime.

Note: If you can't stop drinking, it could be a sign of alcohol dependence. Contact your health care provider for a treatment referral. For more information, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a plethora of information and resources.

Image via Shutterstock.

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