We know drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to damaging effects on a fetus. But now, researchers from Canada's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have learned there are more than 428 distinct conditions that can co-occur with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), which result when a baby is exposed to alcohol in utero.
The findings, which were published in The Lancet and based on 127 studies, indicate that every system of the body, from the nervous system to digestion, to cardiac and respiratory, can be affected by FASD-related conditions.
Exactly how a fetus is impacted by alcohol depends upon many factors, according to Science Daily. How much and how often a mother drinks during pregnancy, as well as other factors like maternal stress levels and nutrition, play a role in how severe the affects are.
Some of the disorders noted by researchers are known to be caused by FASD, such as facial anomalies and cognitive delays. Others were shown to be more common in people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. For example, eight in 10 had communications disorders, while seven in 10 had developmental and/or cognitive disorders. Half exhibited attention and hyperactivity problems. The chances of someone being blind or deaf increased exponentially with FASD.
"[The finding] underscores the fact that it isn't safe to drink any amount or type of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy, despite the conflicting messages the public may hear," explains lead researcher Dr. Lana Popova. "Alcohol can affect any organ or system in the developing fetus."
She hopes this study will lead to earlier and better education about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy. "We can prevent these issues at many stages. Eliminating alcohol consumption during pregnancy or reducing it among alcohol-dependent women is extremely important. Newborns should be screened for prenatal alcohol exposure, especially among populations at high risk. And alerting clinicians to these co-occurring conditions should trigger questions about prenatal alcohol exposure," she said. "It is important that the public receive a consistent and clear message—if you want to have a healthy child, stay away from alcohol when you're planning a pregnancy and throughout your whole pregnancy."
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.