by Teresa J. Mitchell
Alcohol, found in wine, beer and liquors, is a toxic substance that is quickly transferred from the mother's bloodstream to the baby's.
Because all the organs of the fetus are forming, they are particularly vulnerable to toxic substances, especially during the first three months of pregnancy. In the best interests of the baby, a pregnant woman should change certain habits from the very beginning of the pregnancy (e.g. cutting back her drinking, avoiding all other toxic substances, watching what she eats, etc.)
If you've just learned that you're pregnant, but have had a few drinks recently, you don't be overly concerned about your baby. It's never too late to improve your child's chances at good health by cutting down on your drinking, or safer still, by not drinking at all. Developmental problems in the fetus are generally linked to excessive, chronic drinking.
To date, researchers have not been able to determine the exact amount of alcohol that is "safe" for the development of the fetus. We do know, however, that the risks of miscarriage, birth defects, growth retardation and mental disorders increase the more the mother drinks, and the more frequently she drinks. Therefore it is suggested to not drink at all, to avoid any risks.
Heavy drinking can gravely affect the fetus. A pregnant woman who frequently drinks heavily is more likely to give birth to a child with a specific condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS.
FAS includes a number of problems such as growth retardation, mental disorders, an abnormally small head or other facial and skeletal abnormalities, and malformations of the heart. Occasional heavy drinking also increases the risk of similar problems.
Any woman who can't stop drinking should discuss the problem with her doctor or another medical professional before even thinking about getting pregnant, and then throughout the pregnancy, to ensure she gets the support she needs to abstain.
The risk is reduced considerably if you drink in moderation (i.e. one or two glasses of wine). Alcohol becomes increasingly toxic the more you drink and the more frequently you drink. It's important to note that alcohol is never the only factor involved in the development of the baby.
The parents' basic health, their medical history, their lifestyle, the mother's diet, outside pollutants, tobacco and drug use during pregnancy, and other socioeconomic factors all have an impact. Even under ideal conditions, no woman can completely control the outcome of her pregnancy.
A woman who is breastfeeding must think about her baby's well-being, before choosing to drink. A nursing mother should eat a balanced diet, get plenty of rest, and be careful about her alcohol consumption.
You should not drink while nursing, because the baby will absorb the same amount of alcohol as you do, as he or she nurses. If you combine breastfeeding with bottle-feeding, you can drink moderately on occasion (no more than the equivalent of two drinks), and give the baby a bottle at those times. Be aware that it takes a minimum of two hours for your body to eliminate the alcohol in one drink.