Q “What is the best way to tell if a newborn was exposed to alcohol in the womb? I ignorantly took to partying during my pregnancy and I am told this could affect my newborn”
I am afraid I do not have good news for you today.
Virtually all medical experts in the field of Obstetrics and Pediatrics are agreed that no quantity of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. There is no way of knowing what harm was done to your baby by the drinking and my advice is to get medical help as soon as possible.
For you to begin to understand why this might be the case, it might be helpful to appreciate the fact that in the initial stages of pregnancy, the baby is formed from the union of two cells (male and female) which divide rapidly and within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, all the organs of the body are fully formed.
During this period of organ formation, any drugs introduced to the baby might bring about serious defects in the different body organs. The simple and clear message from the experts is based on this reality.
If you are pregnant or are planning to get pregnant you must keep away from alcohol (and indeed all other drugs). For the removal of doubt, alcohol and pregnancy do not mix.
Some argue that after the first trimester and after the body organs are fully formed that one may take lesser amounts of alcohol occasionally. The answer again is unequivocal. Do not take alcohol during pregnancy, for the sake of the baby. Others would like to know if one may take some alcohol while breast feeding, and again the answer is ‘you should not make your baby drink alcohol through your breast milk.’ Remember that the baby has a brain that is growing, and alcohol might interfere with the growth of the brain of your baby.
That, however, is only the beginning of the bad news. It gets worse when you think what else can and has gone wrong with pregnancies over the years, sometimes under the full view of the medical profession.
The so-called Thalidomide tragedy illustrates the point graphically and tragically. In the 1950’s and 60s, women in Europe were given this wonder drug of the day to treat the most bothersome of all complications of pregnancy, morning sickness. With excellent results in the control of this condition, tens of thousands of women used the drug only to deliver babies with severe limb deformities, (later called thalidomide babies) as they were easily identifiable due to the deformities.
From then on, the advice given by experts became clear. Drugs and pregnancy do not mix well. Some mothers argue that no harm will come to their babies if they only drink after the first trimester. Again, the science is not with them because infants born to such mothers develop the so-called fetal alcohol syndrome in some cases.
At birth, a baby born to a mother who has been addicted to alcohol will go through the withdrawal symptoms that the alcoholic mother would go through when no alcohol was in her body. The reason for this must be obvious. The baby who has been used to alcohol in the womb is suddenly denied it goes into sudden withdrawal. Incidentally, and for completion let us state here that similar withdrawal problems are in evidence in babies born to mothers addicted to heroin. Mothers and their babies use these drugs while the baby is in the womb. Both are, therefore, addicted!
Babies exposed to alcohol in the womb sometimes develop a variety of defects in later life. Some for example have the characteristic small eyes, others have slow physical and intellectual development while others have small heads with small brains.
As they grow older, some will show poor coordination, poor balance while still will have difficulties with concentration at school.
Sadly, for you, when you ignorantly took alcohol during the pregnancy, the blood crossed the placenta and reached the baby, and because the baby does not burn the alcohol as quickly as the adult the concentration in the baby is much higher than that in the mother.
Additionally, the alcohol interfered with the delivery of oxygen to the brain of your baby. Other organs were also similarly affected. Sadly, the damage done is not reversible. Finally, the more you drunk, the greater the damage done to your baby.
This very bleak picture is painted in the knowledge that there are some mothers who drink and still have healthy babies. We also know that there are some drivers who drink and drive and still get home safely. Our advice is based on what most doctors advice their patients. Do not drink and drive. Do not mix pregnancy with alcohol.