Drinking alcohol when pregnant carries a significant risk to the unborn baby because alcohol easily crosses the placental barrier, thus passing from mother to child.
Women who are pregnant, attempting to fall pregnant or who are breastfeeding should refrain from drinking.
When it comes to pregnancy, there is no safe time to drink and there is no safe alcohol.
Depending on the level and duration of alcohol consumed during pregnancy, the possible consequences can vary from spontaneous abortion to premature labour, still birth and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Women who drink alcohol while pregnant put their unborn child at risk of developing physical, behavioural and intellectual problems.
FAS is thought to be the third highest cause of congenital mental retardation. This syndrome is associated with:
- Cranio-facial malformation: Typically, a reduction in skull size, small upper lip and nose, receding and small lower jaw and contracted eyelids. These malformations persist with age.
- Growth retardation: Wide ranging, affecting height, weight and skull size.
- Abnormalities in the nervous system: Incomplete development of the brain may result in severe intellectual handicaps.
- Organ malformation: The most frequent malformations are of the heart, external genital organs and joints.
Even moderate consumption of alcohol, of about two or three drinks per day, could present a risk to the development of the baby. Foetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) and FAS are preventable simply by women refraining from drinking alcohol during their pregnancy.
FAS and FAE are permanent and irreversible. There is no cure and no treatment. They can impair a child’s lifelong ability to function mentally, physically and socially and to be the best that they can be
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*This information was supplied by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health.