Thoughtful Parenting: Drinking for two
March 20, 2016
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that women who want to become pregnant stop drinking alcohol as soon as they stop using birth control. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend abstinence for preconceptional and pregnant women.
Science supports the fact that alcohol use during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. The CDC's recommendation stems specifically from the absence of a safe threshold. There is no known safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and there is no reliable biological marker for the detection of maternal alcohol exposure. Alcohol is a teratogen — a substance known to be harmful to human development. Compared to teratogens as harmful as cocaine, heroin and marijuana, alcohol can produce the most serious neurobehavioral effects in the fetus.
FASD is the umbrella term for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects. FAS is the more severe end of the spectrum. The diagnosis is based on three criteria: growth deficiency manifested by low overall height and small head size, central nervous system disorders and a distinctive pattern of abnormal facial features.
FAE has two categories: Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (describing mental and behavioral impairments, such as learning disabilities, poor school performance, poor impulse control and problems with memory, attention and/or judgment) and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (describing malformations of the skeletal and major organ systems, such as the heart, kidneys, bones and/or auditory system).
The spectrum of disability ranges from severe to mild. FAS results from high doses of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, including binge drinking and/or drinking on a regular basis. FAE results from moderate drinking throughout pregnancy. Prenatal damage varies due to the amount of alcohol ingested, peak blood alcohol levels, timing during pregnancy, genetics and environmental factors. FASD is 100 percent preventable. While it might be treatable, it is not curable.
In the US, 75 percent of women who are trying to become pregnant don't stop drinking alcohol when they stop using birth control. Typically, women don’t know they're pregnant until four to six weeks into the pregnancy, which means the developing fetus could be exposed to alcohol. Additionally, 50 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. Experts estimate the full range of FASD affects 2 to 5 percent of our population, making it more common than autism. With as many as 40,000 babies born with FASD each year, experts estimate the cost to be at least $4 billion annually.
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Because FASD can result in lower IQ and/or difficulty learning and functioning, early diagnosis, a positive environment and intensive, appropriate intervention can make a vast difference in the child's prognosis. Treatment options include developmental services, educational interventions, behavior modification, parent training, social skills training, medications and other medical therapies, transition planning, advocacy in the school and workplace and referral for community support services. In northwest Colorado, Horizons provides developmental services for children from birth to age 3, while BOCES serves children 3 to 5.
More than 85 percent of children with FASD have only cognitive and/or behavioral symptoms. The wide range of symptoms — and their subtleties — makes FASD uncommon to diagnose and easy to misdiagnose. Individuals with FASD may have multiple diagnoses, some of which might be mental health disorders.
To ensure a child's best outcomes, it's important to determine if signs and symptoms are related to prenatal alcohol exposure. If you think your child might have FASD, talk to your health care provider.
Deirdre Pepin is Horizons resource development and public relations coordinator. Horizons' Early Intervention and Family Support Programs build supportive relationships with families to enhance children's development by taking time to value and understand families, providing information, collaborating with other service providers and using natural supports. Grand Futures Prevention Coalition works to create and support healthy, positive lifestyle choices as alternatives to substance abuse for our youth and in our community.