For expectant moms, new study’s findings raise a red flag on alcohol use

Even as the nation struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, it’s clear that more public health effort needs to be directed at helping expectant mothers understand how much substances they ingest can harm their kids.

The New York Times reported that a new study published in the JAMA medical journal has conservatively estimated that “fetal alcohol spectrum disorders affect 1.1 to 5 percent of children in the country, up to five times previous estimates.”

Experts came to this conclusion after evaluating 3,000  youngsters in schools in four communities across the United States. They also interviewed many of their mothers. They found a higher than expected prevalence of alcohol’s detrimental effects on youngsters’ mental and physical development, evidence of the various forms of fetal alcohol syndrome.

As the New York Times explained:

The range of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs) can cause cognitive, behavioral and physical difficulties. The most severe is fetal alcohol syndrome, in which children have smaller-than-typical heads and bodies, as well as eyes unusually short in width, thin upper lips, and smoother-than-usual skin between the nose and mouth … A moderate form is partial fetal alcohol syndrome. Less severe is alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, in which children have neurological but not physical characteristics and it is known that their mothers drank during pregnancy.

The researchers conceded that there were limits to their study and its estimates, largely due to the significant stigma attached to this disorder. Mothers can feel extreme guilt and be less than candid as to how their drinking may have affected their youngsters.

Even the researchers’ conservative views on how widespread the syndrome might be prompted health officials to renew sharp warnings to expectant moms about their drinking — and to get pushback from critics who said these cautions were overstated and prudish.

The New York Times described the alcohol cautions this way:

Recently health authorities in the United States have sharpened warnings about alcohol in pregnancy. A 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics report said ‘no amount of alcohol intake should be considered safe’ during any trimester. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noting that half of American pregnancies are unplanned, recommended that sexually active women who are not using birth control.

Critics quoted by the newspaper noted that the interactions between alcohol and pregnancy can be complicated, and studies have not established safe or unsafe consumption levels that are universally accepted. Public health experts have sounded urgent warnings about data showing that alcohol abuse is increasing anew after receding for a time. This can lead to an array of health woes, contributing to cancers, liver disease, diabetes, obesity, and various kinds of heart conditions. Alcohol is a major bane for road safety — and deaths related to intoxication also are climbing anew, with the rising vehicular toll also blamed on distraction and drivers losing consciousness and falling asleep at the wheel.

By the way, youngsters with the syndrome should not be stigmatized, and the CDC video (shown above) gives a glimpse into finding ways to help support them in life.

Marijuana and expectant moms

Meantime, concerns about substance use and abuse is intensifying, too, as more states legalize marijuana, and increasing numbers of pregnant moms report that they smoke or ingest dope to deal with pain or discomfort due to their condition. A study published in JAMA at the end of 2017 found, as Newsweek reported, that more pregnant women are using marijuana than previously noted. …. [I]n the state of California, nearly a quarter of pregnant teenagers and about one in five pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 24 admitted to using the drug.”

Although scientific research is limited on marijuana and its effects on pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists late last year put out a practice statement, saying:

Pregnant women or women contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy for which there are better pregnancy-specific safety data. There are insufficient data to evaluate the effects of marijuana use on infants during lactation and breastfeeding, and in the absence of such data, marijuana use is discouraged.

In my practice, I see not only the major harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services but also the huge damage that can be inflicted on them by road wrecks. Please don’t drink and drive or get behind the wheel after using marijuana. It also isn’t stodgy or corny for expectant moms, who already are stepping up to huge responsibilities as they carry a child, to play it safe, no matter what peers or even existing studies may suggest: During pregnancy, give up — or at least sharply curtail — the booze and dope, eat well, exercise, and follow your doctors’ advice, moms. You’ll make many sacrifices and endure a lot, we know. But you’ll be glad you did when you also know you did everything right on your part to ensure your child’s health and well-being for a lifetime.

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