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Drinking Alcohol while Pregnant

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September 3, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about drinking while pregnant. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Brent Fountain, Mississippi State University Extension Human Nutrition Specialist.

Dr. Fountain, it's common knowledge pregnant women shouldn't drink alcohol, but for this discussion let's start from the beginning. If a woman who drinks regularly suddenly finds out she's pregnant, should she worry?

Brent Fountain: Most of the time a woman doesn't know she's pregnant until four to six weeks after conception. So with that difference between conception and confirmation, certainly a person that regularly consumed alcohol might still be consuming alcohol up until the point that they find out that they're pregnant. Of course when you find out you're pregnant, fear and anxiety for a large variety of reasons can occur. So at this time it's going to be very important to discuss with your medical practitioner any fears or concerns, and also providing accurate information about past and current behaviors, in order to give that medical practitioner the most information they can have in making a great decision for you and your baby.

Amy Myers: Dr. Fountain, let's explain the dangers of drinking while pregnant, and the fact that modern research does back this up.

Brent Fountain: Sure. When alcohol is consumed by the mother it does enter the bloodstream, and then as the mother's blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord, alcohol is also going to be passed to the baby's system. You gotta remember that that baby is growing at an incredibly rapid rate, so there's always going to be these critical periods of growth that can be affected when this exposure occurs.

So the things we do know, drinking alcohol can cause miscarriage. It can cause stillbirth, low birth weight, and a variety of lifelong physical behavior and intellectual disabilities. You've probably heard of fetal alcohol syndrome. That's the more defined area, but there's a larger spectrum called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which covers the wide range of characteristics that develop. These things are lifelong. You just don't grow out of these things. It's always going to be difficult to name everything, but some of the things that I can point to include abnormal facial features, small head size and stature, poor coordination, hyperactive behavior, difficulty with attention, speech and learning delays, intellectual disabilities, and again, problem with organs such as your heart, kidneys, and lungs.

Now, fetal alcohol syndrome wasn't identified until 1973. But since that time, there's a large body of evidence that points to the impact that alcohol can have on the child. You can get more detailed information, and certainly work that's provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism would be great places to start.

Amy Myers: Many folks believe it's fine to have one or two drinks, and still even drink on a regular basis when they're pregnant. Is that okay?

Brent Fountain: Bottom line, it's not okay to drink alcohol while you're pregnant. You see, fetal alcohol syndrome disorder is 100% completely preventable. Avoiding alcohol during pregnancy, and you don't see the disease or the disorder. It's completely eliminated. Researchers are still trying to fully understand. We're learning how the body metabolizes alcohol. We're learning how much it passes through. So with women having different metabolic rates and absorbing that alcohol at different levels, and children's own unique abilities to be individuals themselves, we just don't know how much or what type, and it's always that risk that's there. So the bottom line, there is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. Unfortunately the effect of the alcohol on that baby won't be seen until the pregnancy occurs, and oftentimes as the baby develops and starts to miss milestones.

Amy Myers: That does sound like something that is not worth the risk. Not worth the risk. So let's say a pregnant woman continues drinking for the first few months after she finds out she's pregnant. Is it ever too late to stop drinking while pregnant?

Brent Fountain: No, it's never too late to stop drinking alcohol. Of course never is best and earlier is always better. Due to the fact that most pregnancies aren't planned, it is important that once you are aware that you're pregnant, stopping all risky behaviors. Not just alcohol consumption, but anything that puts that pregnancy at risk. Good regular prenatal care is an important step to helping you with your pregnancy, and there are, fortunately, several assessments that identify areas of risk to the pregnancy, and then treatment and therapy options to assist you with addressing those risks.

So to answer your question Amy, no, it's never too late to stop.

Amy Myers: That also goes for any kind of smoking or drug use, or controlled substance use. We are going to talk about this on future episodes. For more information, Google the American Academy of Pediatrics or the Center for Disease Control.

Today we've been speaking with Dr. Brent Fountain, Human Nutrition Specialist. I'm Amy Myers and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion

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