You have just discovered you are pregnant and are now worried about those 2 (or 3 or 4) glasses of wine you had at dinner the other night.
It may surprise you to know that many babies got made after a night on the town, so try not to panic about
the alcohol you have consumed up until now.
But medical experts like specialist gynae and obstetrician Dr Peter Koll say it is advisable to stop all alcohol once you discover you are pregnant, because no one can tell just how much alcohol will affect your growing baby; it may be the first glass; it may be the fifth.
Here's a horrible fact: Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), is the most common preventable form of intellectual disability
in the world, and is a serious health problem right here in our own backyard.
The small town of De Aar, in the Northern Cape, has the world's highest prevalence of FAS. A 5-year research programme carried out by the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR) revealed that more than one in 10 babies aged under 12 months suffer from a severe form of FAS and up to 50% of the children are in some way afflicted by FAS.
But De Aar isn't the only town affected by this alcohol related illness. It is prevalent all over South Africa, with high numbers in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and
According to FARR's founder Denis Viljoen, at any given time 500 000 South Africans suffer from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), the term given to the range of
symptoms that can be seen in a child whose mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy.
FAS research started in South Africa more than 30 years ago, and is still ongoing.
How much is too much?
Alcohol easily crosses over the placental barrier, which gives new meaning to the saying "your baby eats what you
Even 1 or 2 drinks a day can present a serious risk to your developing baby, but research suggests that
even 2 or 3 drinks a week can cause serious damage.
During the first 9 weeks in utero, your baby's brain
grows faster than all the other organs, and it is during the first trimester that your baby's brain can be most severely
Consequences of drinking alcohol while pregnant vary from spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), to premature labour, stillbirth or varying levels of FAS.
So what is FAS?
The term describes children who have both physical and central nervous system abnormalities as a result of alcohol consumed while their mothers were pregnant with them.
These include: cranial-facial(head) malformation, growth retardation(stunted growth), organ malfunction and
nervous system abnormalities (including abnormalities and weaknesses in the heart, external genital organs and
Brain atrophy or incomplete development of some parts of the brain may result in mild to severe intellectual abnormalities, such as behavioural and learning problems.
Children with FAS aren't able to retain information as well as those without, and they need lots of stimulation and
repetition to understand or remember even the most simple of concepts.
Additional substance abuse (drugs).
The older the mother, the higher the risk to the baby.
The effects on the developing baby get worse with each consecutive pregnancy if the mother-to-be continues to drink.
The genetic make up of both the mother and the baby can either protect against FAS or make them more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.
The health and nutritional status of the pregnant mother.
A partner who is a heavy drinker.
Programmes are currently being developed by the provincial Departments of Health and NGO organisations such as FARR to identify and assist high-risk mothers and diagnose children with FAS as early as possible.
The problem with FAS is that it is easily preventable but once a baby has FAS it is irreversible. If you are pregnant, or currently planning on falling pregnant, you should avoid
all alcohol – a few months without a drink is much better than a lifetime with FAS.