January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are the leading known cause of preventable mental retardation, and create a range of physical, mental, behavioral, and emotional problems. They are 100% preventable, yet approximately 40,000 infants born each year in this nation are affected by prenatal alcohol use, with a cost to society of more than $5.4 billion annually. A woman does not need to be a heavy drinker to have a baby affected by alcohol. Even low levels of alcohol can cause lifelong problems, and, any type of alcohol can cause FASD. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the baby does, too, as the alcohol passes directly from the mother’s bloodstream to the placenta of the developing fetus. Individuals affected by FASD can develop memory and learning problems, can suffer from chronic health issues, mental illness, addiction, and are also at high risk of experiencing unemployment, homelessness, and trouble with the law. FASD lasts a lifetime, and there is no cure. Society needs to be aware of the fact that there is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to drink during pregnancy, and that drinking alcohol any time during pregnancy can cause FASD.
Tobacco is another substance that can harm an unborn baby. Carbon monoxide, a toxic gas found in cigarette smoke, lowers oxygen levels in the mother’s blood, which means there is also less oxygen for the baby. Nicotine, the addictive drug found in tobacco, reduces blood flow by causing blood vessels to narrow. This means that less oxygen and fewer nutrients can reach the baby. Pregnant women who smoke have more problems with pregnancy and delivery than nonsmokers do. Pregnant women who smoke are much more likely than nonsmokers to experience miscarriage and/or stillbirth, have a baby with low birth weight, experience premature delivery, bleed heavily from the placenta in the final months, and/or have a baby who dies from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), also known as “crib death.”
Let’s support our future generation of babies by encouraging potential mothers to choose a healthy lifestyle free of substances! For more information about FASD, visit the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) website. For assistance with an alcohol problem or tobacco cessation classes, call Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse at 585-593-6738.