SCIENTISTS DIFFER ON ALCOHOL INTAKE DURING PREGNANCY

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In recent times there have been many debates on the issue of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Several studies have pointed to one direction that alcohol no matter how little is not acceptable or safe during pregnancy.

In fact, scientists in most of the studies revealed that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix. The studies stated that when you drink, the alcohol quickly travels through your bloodstream, crosses the placenta, and reaches the baby.

According to them, Alcohol endangers the growing baby in a number of ways by increasing the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.

“A little drink a day can raise the odds for having a baby with a low birth weight and raise the child’s risk for having problems with learning, speech, attention span, language, and hyperactivity. Some researches have shown that expectant mothers who have as little as one drink a week are more likely than non drinkers to have children who later exhibit aggressive and delinquent behaviour.

Mental health problems

One study found that girls whose mothers drank during pregnancy are more likely to have mental health problems.

According to the United State Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, fetal exposure to alcohol is one of the main preventable causes of birth defects and developmental problems.

But a study published in October 2010 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health somehow reassured the women. In that study, researchers in the United Kingdom reported that 5-year-old children of women who drank up to one to two alcoholic drinks per week while pregnant were not at an increased risk of behavioural or cognitive problems.

However, many doctors with the stance of the CDC recommend that pregnant women should avoid drinking.

Reacting on the ongoing debate here in Nigeria, President of the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Dr. Osahon Enabulele said the issue of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a subject that needs to be handled professionally and with great caution because of its evolving nature.

For Enabulele, though available studies have not documented any harmful effects from light drinking of alcohol but one thing that is clear, is that heavy drinking or addiction to alcohol by pregnant mothers can result in the delivery of low birth weight children with an increase in neonatal and infant mortality.

Osahon said: “Indeed, some children born to pregnant mothers who indulged in heavy drinking of alcohol may develop Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder with cognitive and behavioural disorders/learning disabilities, a characteristic facial appearance with a small head size, epicanthic folds and a broad base to the nose, a long upper lip and a small lower jaw, with a high chance of having other serious malformations.

“Based on available evidence,Enabulele  said it is advisable for a pregnant mother to abstain from alcohol, particularly during the early weeks of gestation. “If a pregnant mother must indulge in alcohol occasionally she must consult her family physician for professional advice/counseling before making her personal decision,” he noted.

Continuing he said: “I must however state that women with certain risk factors such as liver disease, a history of drug or alcohol addiction or on drugs that interact with alcohol, need to be especially cautious in handlin

He further advocated that more research need to be conducted amongst Nigerian pregnant mothers to ascertain the direct effects of drinking different doses of alcohol and at particular times during the pregnancy. This he said, especially as some pregnant mothers may have different alcohol tolerance levels or alcohol handling abilities because of differences in the levels of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.

Also in the views of MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at Ucla, Carol Archie, even small amounts of alcohol can affect a developing baby’s brain. “We know that alcohol impacts brain cells and that the baby’s brain is constantly developing throughout the entire pregnancy. I would say to a pregnant mother that it’s probably best to abstain from all alcohol.”

However, Danish researchers say there is no strong evidence low levels of drinking in pregnancy are harmful, they argued that eight units of alcohol per week during pregnancy had no obvious impact on children at age five. And found that drinking up to three times that amount appears to have no negative effect on children.

The 2010 study, published in the British journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, followed 1,628 women and their offspring from pregnancy to the time the children were five. The mothers’ were asked to assess their own drinking during pregnancy in interviews conducted at antenatal appointment, usually at about 17 weeks.

The women were asked if ever it is right to drink alcohol while pregnant and they were then categorized as abstainers during pregnancy; light drinkers (one to four drinks a week); moderate drinkers (five to eight); or heavy drinkers (nine or more). For the purposes of the study, one drink contained 1.5 British units of alcohol – roughly that in a small (125ml) glass of medium-strength white wine.

Self control and ability to organize themselves

They found that having up to eight small drinks a week had no effect on the five-year-olds’ IQ, attention span, self-control and ability to organize themselves. Only children of women who consumed nine or more such drinks a week were affected, demonstrating lower attention spans.

Prof. Ulrik Schioler Kesmodel, of Aarhus university, Denmark, said: “We are not encouraging women to drink but we hope to reassure those who have been drinking in the early stages of pregnancy – maybe before they knew they were having a baby – that they don’t need to worry about it.“

He claimed they were surprised not to find any evidence of harmful effects in children among pregnant women who had been involved in binge drinking. Kesmodel admited that the children in their study should be checked at an older age, because neurological problems only became noticeable from age five. These findings suggest low to moderate drinking has no significant effect on children aged five.

It is up to every mother to decide if she will have the occasional small drink or sacrifice a small amount of time. It is definitely not the biggest sacrifice when raising a child.

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