Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy and Its Effects

Date: Nov 8, 2018

Introduction

Alcohol and pregnancy are two concepts that are incompatible. However, despite this, the issue about drinking alcohol during pregnancy has been disputed for decades. Some argue that a small amount of alcohol will not harm a child, whereas others dwell on alcohol and pregnancy scare dire consequences for fetal development. The key goal of the following work is to find out who is right, and what people know about the influence of alcohol on a mother-to-be.

Alcohol has a significant impact on the human body. Every individual that drinks alcoholic beverages can eventually face various health problems. A pregnant woman even if she wants could not drink alone since her unborn child always accompanies her. Alcohol easily passes through the placenta into a body of a child, and the impact is not good. Alcohol is harmful because of ethanol and its decay products - acetaldehyde, for example. Alcohol may cause a spasm of blood vessels of the placenta and umbilical cord, which leads to fetal hypoxia. Acetaldehyde reduces the level of zinc in the child’s cells, which impairs the growth and development. In addition, alcohol can induce various changes and mutations in the DNA of germinal cells, and this may lead to serious malformations and fetal tissue. Alcohol causes a deficiency of vitamins and violates the exchange of other important substances - hormones, prostaglandins, etc. As a result, it affects many organs and systems of the fetus, but most of all - the central nervous system (including intelligence and a behavioral sphere).

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and in the most severe cases - the development of fetal alcohol syndrome, the so-called diseases of the fetus due to fetal alcohol damage. This syndrome is characterized by specific abnormalities of the face, stunted physical and mental development, and behavioral abnormalities (Chasnoff, 2011).

Pregnant women should be very careful with alcohol. The researches prove that it can cause fetal malformations, damage embryos, as well as affect the genetic and chromosomal material. Alcohol is a teratogen that can result in different transformations of an unborn child. The frequency of changes is about 0.2-2 cases per 1000 births. In addition to this syndrome, there are still a number of developmental disorders of the group of the so-called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. For example, in the US, 1% of newborns have congenital malformations associated with the intake of alcohol during pregnancy. Up to 30% of American women drink alcohol during pregnancy, at least occasionally (Buxton, 2005).

The Research

In order to find out the real attitude of people, ten main questions were stated in the questionnaire (Annex 1). The analysis of the answers of ten respondents gave definite results. Every pollee agreed that alcohol had a harmful impact on women. However, the results of the questionnaire are ambiguous. Among 10 respondents, there were five men and five women of different age and educational level. There were two students with a stable relationship (both male), two men with a Master’s degree who have wives and children and one unmarried man who finished high school. There were three women with higher education. These women have children. One woman among respondents is not married, and one student girl has a stable relationship with her group mate (Annex 2-5).

All respondents live in Crestview, Florida. Among the respondents, there are four office workers (two men and two women). There are also three students (two male and a female), one homemaker, one mail carrier, and one seller.

Harm Caused by Alcohol to a Pregnant Woman

The first question discovers whether respondents think the alcohol is harmful to a pregnant woman. All of them supported the statement.

Scientists also have the proof of the harmful impact of alcoholic drinks on a mother-to-be and her unborn child. Drinking during the fourth week of pregnancy is very dangerous because laying and formation of all the internal organs of the fetus take place. This process is called organogenesis. Alcohol after getting into the body of a pregnant woman instantly penetrates into the blood and delivers to the fetus. Being a very toxic substance, alcohol causes a disturbance of the normal development of a child. Thus, it becomes clear that alcohol in the first month of pregnancy is very dangerous for a baby. However, not only alcohol in the first month of pregnancy can adversely affect the fetal development. The unhealthy environment, stresses, medication and other issues can cause future problems with a newborn (Annex 6).

Moreover, there is the risk not only just in the first month of pregnancy. Alcohol in the first trimester of pregnancy is also very dangerous, and subsequent differentiation of the internal organs continues until 13 weeks of pregnancy. If a woman drinks alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy, there are chances that the kids can have different developmental disabilities.

When answering another question from the questionnaire, it was difficult for respondents to indicate what influence alcohol has on a child. Every respondent knows that it is harmful, but cannot define why (Annex 7).

What Impact Alcohol has on a Woman’s Body

It is necessary to discover, what impact alcohol has on a woman’s body in general. Alcohol intake is a major factor that significantly reduces a woman's fertility. According to studies, the level of fertility in the study group of women who have had ovulatory cycles while taking more than 90 g of alcohol per week is about 11% per month. Alcohol intake in this study was short-term - 14 to 21-day cycle, and the probability of conception and implantation was the highest. However, the influence of alcohol was evident (Buxton, 2005).

Other researchers have studied the effect of alcohol intake over a longer period (up to 10 years). Constant intake of alcohol, especially in moderate amounts, exacerbates problems with infertility, as well as increases the frequency of the anovulatory cycles (Chasnoff, 2011).

The determination of the effect of alcohol on the levels of estrogen, androgens and gonadotropins was performed in menstruating women and postmenopausal women, in view of the dose of alcohol - acute intoxication or chronic alcoholism.

Drinking a lot of alcohol leads to the significant increase levels of estradiol in plasma. This is explained by the influence of alcohol on the opioid receptors in the hypothalamus that stimulate the production of LH and prolactin by the pituitary gland. The greatest influence of alcohol marked the pre-ovulatory period (the end of the first phase of the menstrual cycle) and early implantation (second half of the second phase). This effect is explained by the fact that the proportion of alcohol impairs liver enzymes necessary for the metabolism of estradiol to estrone, as well as neutralization of the alcohol. Thus, the plasma that is more estradiol does not transmit the decay process in the liver (Chasnoff, 2011).

In different phase (cycle days), an increase of different female sex hormones (estradiol, estrone, estriol) are observed in plasma and urine of women taking alcohol. It is clear that the increase in the biologically active forms of estradiol before ovulation occurs in all women who drink alcohol regularly and in moderation. The level of estradiol is proven to decrease at the lower doses of alcohol (Chasnoff, 2011).

Drinking alcohol does not only increase the level of estrogen in the blood of women, but also enlarges a number of male sex hormones. Alcohol significantly increases the level of estrogen when using hormonal contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy. It is proved that even at the high levels of female hormones, exogenous origin of their assimilation could be disrupted, as the rate of excretion from the body may increase the side effects of this relative hyperestrogenia (Chasnoff, 2011).

Alcohol and The Level of Progesterone

Several studies have shown that alcohol intake does not affect the level of progesterone in the follicular phase and mid-luteal phase. It should be stressed that in theory, it was assumed that the proportion of disrupting enzymes involved in the synthesis and degradation of progesterone, as well as the process of transformation of pregnenolone to progesterone should be broken too (Chasnoff, 2011).

There have been no researches on the effects of alcohol on the level of progesterone in the early stages of pregnancy because it would not be ethical to conduct such experiments on pregnant women, knowing the teratogenic effects of alcohol. However, no pregnant state created false pregnancy, including the administration of HCG in certain days during normal pregnancy when this hormone appears in the blood of women. Alcohol reduces the level of progesterone in these women. Therefore, there is an assumption that alcohol can interfere with a normal implantation of the ovum (Buxton, 2005).

Other research on women taking oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy have confirmed that the level of progesterone in the blood of women decreased considerably.

Experiments in the laboratory to study the effect of alcohol on the cells of the placenta and its ability to synthesize progesterone were also conducted. They proved that the alcohol prevents the entry of cholesterol molecules in the cells of the placenta, from which progesterone is then formed. The amount of alcohol that causes these changes was equivalent to 0.10-0.20% of alcohol in the blood (1.5-3 glass of wine or vodka 110-230 ml) (Buxton, 2005).

Besides the teratogenicity of alcohol, we know absolutely nothing about the effects of alcohol on the fetus and the course of pregnancy, including the single administration, chronic receptions, receptions of small doses, large doses of different types of drinks, etc. One cannot compare pregnancy of average women with pregnancy of alcoholics, when alcohol is a norm in small doses and occasionally. After all, women suffering from alcoholism have many other negative factors affecting the course of pregnancy (poor diet and malnutrition, living in the unsanitary conditions, different types of abuse and violence, and other unhealthy habits, etc.)

The Possibility of Drinking Alcoholic Beverages by Pregnant Women

The next question sounded like whether they will allow the woman who is pregnant to drink alcohol or prohibit it. Two women said that it is up to a woman and every woman has to decide by herself. Four men stated that they would prohibit any alcohol drinks. Other pollees said the small doses of alcohol would make no harm. They also mentioned that it is important to know what doctors say about drinking of the mother-to-be.

Doctors have not determined exactly how much alcohol during pregnancy is not harmful to the unborn child. Therefore, there is an advice to eliminate the consumption of alcoholic beverages at this time or at least during the first three months. If one decides not to give up alcohol, it is important to reduce its use to one or two servings of no more than one or two times a week. Alcohol abuse and binge drinking, for example, drinking six or more drinks per day, are dangerous for a child.

Toxins

Alcohol contains toxins that enter the bloodstream through the placenta and get into the body of the unborn baby. If one abuses alcohol during pregnancy, it can cause serious harm to the growing fetus. Alcohol adversely affects the growth and development of the internal organs and the brain. It may also cause abnormalities of the child. Drunkenness of a pregnant woman harms the nervous system of the baby and can lead to such consequences as poor coordination of movements that will accompany the child throughout his / her life (Chasnoff, 2011).

Abnormalities of the fetal development caused by the drinking mother is called "fetal alcohol spectrum disorders" (FASD). This term includes a number of abnormalities - from minor difficulties in learning to congenital abnormalities (Usher, & Martin, 2012).

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The most severe case is fetal alcohol syndrome, which is characterized by the abnormalities of the facial structure, low weight at birth and growth, and further retarded growth and physical development. Such children often have neurological and behavioral problems. Alcohol syndrome is incurable and remains for life.

Excessive use of alcohol by a pregnant woman can harm an unborn child, which is why doctors are cautious to the question of how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

There must be the caution while taking alcoholic beverages during the whole period of pregnancy, not only in the first trimester. Alcohol can have a detrimental impact on the child in the last trimester of pregnancy as well. In this period, there is the most active growth and development of the child's brain.

Another example of how alcohol affects pregnancy is the fact that alcohol significantly lowers the body's ability to absorb various vitamins and elements.

  • Zinc. In a normal pregnancy, zinc plays a huge role. The daily requirement of zinc in pregnant women increases in three - four times and is about 30 mg. Insufficient zinc content significantly increases the risk of miscarriage, malformations of the embryo, premature birth, uterine inertia, and low weight of newborns.
  • Folic acid. A sufficient amount of the following acid is also vital for the normal development of the fetus and pregnancy. Folic acid is responsible for many processes in the body of a pregnant woman. It should be noted that the most important role it plays in the formation of the neural tube. The daily rate of folic acid for women during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is about 400 mg.
  • Vitamin E. This vitamin is responsible for the correct bookmark internal organs and well-being of the pregnant woman.
  • Iron. Decreased hemoglobin adversely affects the fetus, as well as most of the pregnant women. There is very high risk of developing iron deficiency anemia, which in turn threatens the kid hypoxia (Buxton, 2005).

However, other studies have shown that drinking one glass of wine a week is safe for the unborn child. Nevertheless, the Health Ministry advises pregnant women and those who want to become pregnant completely abstain from alcohol.

The simplest question to answer was the request to give information about favorite alcoholic beverage of women (Annex 8). Many of them prefer light beverages that contain less alcohol, such as beer, cider, wine, and sherry. Still, the doctors stress that it is necessary to know the amount of alcohol in each portion of the beverage and to pay much attention to it.

Portion alcohol is the amount of alcoholic beverage, which contained 10 ml of pure ethyl alcohol. The number of servings of alcohol are stated on the label of the bottle. The label also contains information about the percentage of alcohol in the alcoholic beverages.

Still, a pregnant woman can enjoy a small amount of alcohol; there is another question about the possibility to replace it during the period of pregnancy.

Types, volume and amount of alcohol
Alcohol beverage type Volume Amount of alcohol
Light or dark beer or cider 4% 568 ml 2.3
Strong light or dark beer or cider 6% 568 ml 3.4
Wine 12% 150 ml 1.52
Cocktails 5% 275 ml 1.4
Spirits 38-40% 25 ml 1
Sherry or port 17.5-20% 50 ml 1

If one drinks to relax and relieve stress, then to get rid of this bad habit can be complicated. The first advice is to try to substitute a glass of beer or wine for other methods of relaxation, such as a warm bath, soft music, massage, exercise or reading. Dangers of alcohol during pregnancy is difficult to overstate. However, some women do not want or can't give up alcohol, justifying their actions by saying that a glass of red wine will not hurt anyone. However, doctors strongly disagree to this statement. In addition, it is important to note, that alcohol during pregnancy extends to the postpartum period. It is worth mentioning that postpartum flows much easier if a woman does not drink any alcohol. Those women drinking during pregnancy face complications, such as very long-term restoration of the normal tone of the cerebral cortex and the sub-cortical centers. The excretion of pregnancy hormones occurs significantly slower than usual. As a result, the hormone system also comes back to its normal state not very quickly. The heart takes its usual position immediately, whereas kidneys work much worse. Natural changes in the reproductive system are also much slower laid. The uterus contracts poorly; often it stagnates.

Conclusion

Since it is impossible to prove the harmful influence of the alcoholic beverages on the pregnant woman, proponents of abstinence can always say that security framework of alcohol is undefined. While there is no evidence that the use of alcohol by a pregnant woman in moderation (no more than one serving of beer, wine or other spirits) caused fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) at least to one child or any other damage, there will be no restriction on the governmental level. Women who choose to drink alcohol in moderation during pregnancy can reassure themselves that their decision is in accordance with the scientific evidence.

On the other hand, there is always a chance that will find yet unknown proofs that slight or moderate drinking during pregnancy can still harm a baby. Given this possibility, even if it is very small, the safest choice for pregnant woman is to give up alcohol. Women who are pregnant or planning to become a mother should discuss this problem with a specialist in this field. Every mother-to-be wants to give birth to a happy and healthy child. Thus, she should give up alcohol at least for nine months of pregnancy. In comparison with the harm all alcoholic beverages can cause to a child, these thirty weeks of the sober life are nothing impossible to realize. The government should pay much attention to the following problem. For example, alcohol abuse should be stated as a crime. In this case, the woman who makes the choice for her baby should experience the number of further restrictions and fees. If this system existed, women would never have the desire to drink alcohol while pregnant and children’s hospitals would be much emptier, than they are now.

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