PHOTO: The consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is one of the leading preventable causes of birth defects and childhood disabilities. Photo credit: Meagan/Flickr.
It is completely preventable, but there will be some 40-thousand babies born in the U.S. this year, including hundreds in Tennessee, diagnosed with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Dr. Frederick Palmer, professor of pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, says the severity of the health issues related to maternal alcohol use depends on the timing and frequency of consumption, which he says should be not a single drop. “The underlying thing is if you don’t drink while pregnant, you cannot have a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or any effects of alcohol, and that’s a fairly open-and-shut case,” he says. It is estimated that about one percent of children nationwide have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or other alcohol-related birth defects. Palmer says some cases are from women drinking before they realize they’ve become pregnant, while others believe it won’t harm their babies or the women struggle with addiction. The effects on the babies can include abnormal facial features, growth deficiencies and permanent brain damage. “These range from what is to a physician a readily identifiable Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to much milder problems, including maybe just cognitive problems or maybe just problems in school learning,” Palmer says.