Today I want to write about something that we all know about but avoid any conversation on. Please stay away from drugs, alcohol and cigarettes mommy. From that very first day of his/her life, that little baby growing inside you gets everything from you, good and bad things. If you decide to eat a well-balanced diet, it not only benefits you, but your growing baby as well. If you are too tired constantly to eat a healthy diet, how can you expect your baby to grow healthy? There are so many unknowns in this world and sometimes no matter what we do; things don’t turn out the way we expect. Leave that part to God and do what you can do to make the right choices for you and the baby. Once you decide to take on this mommy task, everything is shared between you and your offspring, for the rest of your life. What you do today will have a significant impact on your child and what they will do later in their lives. There is no space for ignorance or selfishness. Most congenital brain and nerve system disorders are linked to smoking, alcohol and other illegal drug consumptions by the mother while pregnant. Effect of prenatal exposure to nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, opiates, cocaine and methamphetamine all have been well studied. I would like to share with you some of these findings today.
According to an article published by American Academy of Pediatrics, almost all drugs cross the umbilical cord (placenta) into the fetus. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a condition that affects the baby’s whole life and is not reversible. It is 100% preventable by a mother staying away from the substance abuse. Babies born with FAS can show either physical or mental birth defects.
Pregnancy and giving birth is such a precious time of a woman’s life and it is all over in such a short period of time as nine months. The effects of your actions can last a life time for your baby who is, for nine months, completely depended on you for nutritious food and healthy life style. Prenatal substance abuse continues to be a significant problem according to Marylou Behnke and the researchers. While the mothers are constantly reminded by the primary care doctors and health workers of the impact of drug use on the fetus, the pediatrician’s role also include prevention, identification of exposure, recognition of any medical issues after the baby is born, protection of the infant, and follow up on any further exposure. In a study conducted in US alone, it was found that use of illegal drugs in pregnant women between 15-17 year olds is a mind blowing 16% and between 26-44 year olds is 1.9%.
Medical community uses two basic methods to identify prenatal substance abuse; self-report and biological specimen testing. Self-report suffers from trust of the patient, recollection of timing and other issues. Biological specimen testing can be done using urine, hair and blood sampling.
Alternatively, exposure to drugs in secondary methods can happen; passive exposure to the drug, ingestion of other products contaminated with the drug or use of prescription medication that are contaminated or metabolized to the drug.
There are many ways exposure to drugs can affect the growing baby. Alteration of neurotransmitters and their receptors and brain organization are considered direct effect of drugs. When a pregnant mother is a drug user or an addict, the fetus may be effected by other secondary ways related to drug use; poor nutrition of the mother, decreased help or compliance with healthcare personnel, exposure to violence and increased risk of mental illness of the mother, which all of these can affect the baby in the long run. For example, impulsivity and attention problems have been associated with nicotine during pregnancy. Hyperactivity and short attention span have been noted of children exposed to opiates prenatally and older exposed children have been shown to have memory problems.
Although a lot more research is needed to explain how the drugs penetrate to the fetus and how it alters the brain structure and development of the baby, the correlation of drug use and birth effects of the children born with prenatal drug exposure is clearly shown by many evidences. It has been reported that there are no safe amount of alcohol for a female who is trying to get pregnant, or is pregnant already.
Some consequences of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are given below.
- Abnormal facial features, such as cleft palate or cleft lip
- Low birth weight
- Underdeveloped head size
- Stunted growth and height
- Coordination problems
- Behavioral problems, such as poor attention or hyperactivity
- Learning disabilities, especially in math
- Communication delays, such as with comprehension, speech, and language
- Reduced judgment and reasoning ability
- Nursing and sleeping issues
- Impairment of the senses, such as vision and hearing
- Complications with the heart, liver, and other internal organs
Certain types of antibiotics, antidepressants, caffeine, cocaine, cold, allergy and pain medications, some prescription drugs taken during labor and breast feeding are all shown to have effects related to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Please stay away from drugs mommy!!
Dr Ganga Fernando received her PhD from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and currently teaching at Cottey College – a four-year University of liberal arts and sciences for women – as an Associate Professor of Chemistry. In her role as a faculty member of the BS in Health Science program, she offers research and internship opportunities in the field of Global Public Health disparities and health care in rural South East Asia. She is a mother of 3 and a world traveler with vast experience in women’s health and maternity.