Spinning the Bottle
This April marks the 20th annual observance of Alcohol
Awareness Month, which is significant given that more
than 21 million adults abused alcohol or were alcohol
nearly half of U.S. adults reported a family history
of alcoholism or problem drinking2 in
And while alcohol oftentimes factors into the three
leading causes of death (motor vehicle accidents, homicides
and suicides), it too plays a significant role in women’s
health, pregnancy and infant health and care.
Overall, women consume less alcohol than men, but
are more likely to experience adverse consequences
related to drinking. The female body is much more sensitive
to the effects of alcohol and can be more easily damaged,
including serious heart, brain and liver problems.
With pregnancy, complications associated with drinking
multiply, and the negative affects of alcohol extend
beyond the mother to her unborn child. Fetal Alcohol
Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term describing
the physical and mental effects on babies exposed to
prenatal consumption of alcohol. The physical effects
and financial burdens associated with FASD often last
Though incurable, FASD is 100 percent preventable,
yet annually thousands of women continue drinking during
pregnancy. And no amount of alcohol is considered safe.
Nationally, 40,000 infants each year - one out of every
100 live births - are affected by FASD3.
Additionally, the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
is heightened when alcohol is consumed in the months
prior to and just after conception.
According to the 2003 NC Pregnancy Risk Assessment
System, 90 percent of pregnant women in North Carolina
quit drinking upon learning they were pregnant. Nearly
5,000, though, consumed alcohol in their final trimester.
The numbers could be worse. The same study revealed
that more than 20 percent of women reported receiving
no warnings from medical providers regarding the dangers
of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
Though simply informing women of these dangers may
not be enough, as is evident by the 40,000 annual cases
of FASD nationwide. Health educators and providers
need to learn why some women choose to drink during
pregnancy (stress, emotional health, violence etc.)
and instead try to help them better address these problems
And the risk to babies does not end at birth. Some
cultures encourage lactating women to drink alcohol
to optimize milk production and infant nutrition, but
in actuality, breastfeeding mothers should continue
to avoid drinking. Studies have shown that alcohol
reduces milk production and is passed from mother to
child through breast milk, potentially influencing
an infant’s sleep and motor development.
When parents are under the influence, judgment and
reflexes are impaired which can have detrimental effects
on their infant caretaking, particularly if they choose
to sleep with their baby. Parents are advised not to
drink and sleep with their infants to prevent accidental
suffocation or strangulation infant deaths. Babies
should be placed to sleep on their backs in their own
crib or bassinet to help reduce the likelihood of alcohol-related
Help is available, statewide, for pregnant women who
are having difficulty stopping drinking on their own,
as well as for health and social service professionals
who work with pregnant women who use alcohol. For more
information, contact Melissa Godwin, Perinatal Substance
Use Specialist, at the North Carolina Family Health
Resource Line, 1-800-367-2229.
here for free educational materials.
here for more information on Alcohol Awareness
1U.S. Department of
Health and Human Service
2 National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
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