Pregnancy is an incredibly special time for any expecting family. It is a time of joy, excitement and anticipation as a new life is welcomed into the world. However, it is also a time when it is imperative that expecting mothers take extra care of their health and well-being. Drinking during pregnancy can dramatically impact the baby’s brain structure.
Brain Development and Alcohol Consumption During Pregnancy
The human brain develops throughout a person’s lifespan and continues to mature through adolescence and adulthood. This neurodevelopment occurs in a specific, sequential order, heavily influenced by genetic factors. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can interrupt this crucial neurodevelopment process by inhibiting the fetal brain’s growth rate.
As a result, the child’s brain may be significantly less mature, their cognitive skills may be significantly delayed, and they may exhibit signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) as they develop. A developing fetus is completely dependent on its mother for nutrients and oxygen. As such, any toxins ingested by the mother are inevitably passed on to the baby.
Alcohol is one of the most damaging substances that a pregnant woman can consume during her pregnancy.
Potential Complications of FAS
Although Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is primarily associated with developmental delays and abnormalities, it can also cause various complications that can be fatal to the child. These include increased risk of seizures, heart defects and malformation of the organs. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, caused by less severe alcohol consumption during pregnancy, typically has less severe effects on the child’s development.
However, it can still cause developmental delays, behavioral issues, learning disabilities, speech and language problems and hyperactivity. Fetal alcohol exposure has been linked to altered brain development and neuronal damage in the fetus.
As a result, children with FAS or FASD can be at increased risk of experiencing anxiety, depression, mood disorders and behavioral issues. It is also common for children with FAS or FASD to struggle in school due to their developmental issues.
Negative Effects of Maternal Alcohol Use on Fetal Brain Development
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can negatively impact the development of the fetal brain by disrupting the flow of nutrients, hormones and oxygen through the bloodstream. This can cause changes in the fetal brain’s structure and function, which can negatively impact the child’s development.
Maternal alcohol consumption can negatively impact fetal brain development in several ways. It can cause the child’s neurons to grow more slowly, significantly delay the development of certain brain regions and result in the formation of abnormal brain structure.
Fetal alcohol exposure can also impact the development of the fetus’s liver, kidneys and heart. Although most children with alcohol-related damage from their mothers’ consumption do not experience any long-term health issues, some will develop FAS or FASD.
FAS and FASD are lifelong conditions that hugely impact the development of every child they affect. The symptoms of these conditions can make it incredibly challenging for children to succeed in school and life. In addition, the symptoms can negatively impact an entire family, especially due to the associated challenges of raising a special needs child.
Children with FAS or FASD may struggle with developmental issues, learning disabilities and behavioral problems for their entire lives. However, these conditions are not inevitable, and there are things that a family can do to minimize the effects of these conditions.
Strategies to Minimize the Risk of Fetal Alcohol Exposure
It is recommended that mothers who experience alcohol cravings should avoid taking drugs and alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Mothers need to consume a nutritious diet to provide their children with nutrition. In addition, mothers need to supplement their diet with lots of protein and vitamins to ensure healthy development.
Maternal nutrition should be supplemented with the Safe Motherhood Program (SMTP) or a similar supplement to improve the child’s development.
In addition, maternal nutrition can be supplemented with increased dietary fiber, fish oil and nutrients that improve the child’s brain function, such as certain vitamins and minerals.
Mothers need to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum during pregnancy. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pregnant women not consume any alcohol at all. Of course, it can be difficult for women to avoid alcohol during pregnancy if they are unaware that they are pregnant.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause a range of developmental issues in children. It is important to note that these issues are not inevitable. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is not genetic and can be prevented from an early stage. Unfortunately, it is still very common for women to consume alcohol during pregnancy, and the risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is higher for those women who drink during pregnancy.