Pregnancy and Alcohol
TV report gives women risky information
By: Helen Weinstein
It is hard to believe that in 2008 we are still debating whether it is safe for pregnant women to consume alcohol. And yet that is exactly what “Good Morning America Weekend” did in a report titled, “To Drink or Not to Drink: Pregnancy and Alcohol.”
The myths presented as facts in this piece painted a biased and inaccurate portrayal of the risks associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. The credibility of their own “experts” was damaged by saying that “occasional” drinking of “a little” alcohol is safe. But how often exactly is “occasional” and how much alcohol constitutes “a little”?
Certainly not the four to five over-sized glasses of wine consumed weekly by the pregnant woman featured in the report. Although not every woman who drinks during pregnancy will have a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome or related disabilities identified as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, there is no way to tell who will or who won’t until after the baby is born.
That is why more than 35 years of research concludes, along with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the U.S. Surgeon General, that women should not consume any alcoholic beverages during pregnancy due to the risk of birth defects. To ignore these warnings is tantamount to playing baby Russian roulette.
Fetal alcohol syndrome has been recognized as the leading known cause of developmental disabilities in the United States and is 100 percent preventable if no alcohol is consumed during pregnancy. As facilitator of the Western New York Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Support Group, I shared the “Good Morning America” report with a parent who immediately responded, “Let them live with my child for a few days! Do that and they won’t question whether or not that glass of wine is worth the risk!”
Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause physical, cognitive and behavioral challenges throughout the life of the individual: the infant who fails to thrive, the young child with extreme hyperactivity, the impulsive adolescent and the adult who cannot live independently.
Although not all people with the disorder have the outward physical characteristics typical of a person with full fetal alcohol syndrome, the negative consequences can be just as devastating. At every stage of prenatal development, alcohol crosses the placenta and can cause damage to the developing brain, resulting in a spectrum of effects ranging from attention deficits and memory problems to severe mental retardation.
The implication of the report was that telling women not to drink during pregnancy would cause them undue stress. Stress is looking at your child with the lifelong disabilities related to FAS/FASD and knowing that you could have prevented it by not drinking alcohol for nine months. To drink or not to drink? The answer should be clear.
Helen Weinstein is fetal alcohol and drug effects educator for the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol & Substance Abuse.