Drinking and pregnancy

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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:50 pm
Exposure of an unborn child to alcohol during the mother's pregnancy may affect the fetus. Possible complications include miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight, and cerebral palsy (suh-REE-bral PALL-zee). Doctors aren't sure how much alcohol it takes to harm the fetus, but research suggests that over six hard drinks per day pose a definite threat. Since the safe level of drinking is unknown, the Surgeon General recommends that pregnant women avoid alcohol entirely. Heavy use of alcohol during pregnancy may result in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, commonly known as F-A-S. F-A-S is one of the top three causes of birth defects, affecting approximately one to three in every thousand live births. When a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol passes through the placenta and into the fetus's blood. The fetus's liver can't effectively process the alcohol, so alcohol remains in the fetus long after it's been eliminated from the mother's body. F-A-S causes low birth weight; deformities of the limbs, joints, fingers, and face; a small head circumference; central nervous system dysfunction, and heart defects. Sometimes, the symptoms of F-A-S won't appear until adolescence, when the child suddenly becomes hyperactive or exhibits learning and perceptual difficulties. Then as the child enters the teens, physical problems may begin, including chronic ear infections, hearing loss, and dental and vision problems. A woman should refrain from drinking while she's trying to conceive, throughout her pregnancy, and after birth, if she's breast feeding her baby. For more information about drinking and pregnancy, contact a health care provider.
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