Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – Alcohol consumption during pregnancy

The earliest recording of alcohol consumption in pregnancy is in 1899 when a study was conducted on alcoholic women in UK prisons. It was observed that the rates of miscarriages were higher among the alcoholic prisoners than non alcoholics (Manning and Hoyme 230-238). The study also noted that children from alcoholic women had noticeable birth defects. Scientific research into the impact of alcohol during pregnancy began in the late 1940s. Though the results were inconclusive, it was only after an experiment by Jones, Smith, Ulleland and Streissguth in 1973 that the term fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) was introduced (Niccols 135-142). Clinical studies are still being conducted to determine the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

The effect of alcohol absorption by the fetus is dependent on a number of variables. These include maternal health, amount of alcohol consumed and how long the fetus has been exposed to the alcohol. When alcohol is absorbed into maternal body it is broken down into ethanol. The ethanol travels through the placenta to the fetal blood stream. Ethanol is toxic to the fetus and causes damage to the fetus’ nervous system and cell growth (Gemma, Vichi and Testai 221-229). Niccols claims that ethanol contributes to miscarriages during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. In the third trimester, ethanol causes damage to brain development and inhibits fetal absorption of nutrients through the umbilical cord. However, not all alcoholic women give birth to children with FAS. Women who are chronic alcoholics are more likely to give birth to children with FAS than non-chronic alcoholic women. In addition, the author observes that the length of alcohol exposure, type of consumption, metabolism levels of mother and fetus, poor eating habits, stress, medication and substance abuse are risk factors to FAS (135-142). This is confirmed by Hanson, Venturelli and Fleckenstein who argue that the effect of alcohol on the fetus varies depending on the health of the mother, rate of drug metabolism, amount of alcohol consumed, length of exposure and consumption of other drugs (486). Go to part 3 here.

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