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Alcohol & Smoking during Pregnancy: Why is it safe?

Attached to the baby’s umbilical cord is the placenta, which transfers substances like food and oxygen from the mother’s bloodstream to the baby. It effectively means that anything that enters a mother’s blood stream can reach the baby. While food and oxygen are essential and good for the baby, harmful substances can also find their way into the baby’s body. For this reason, staying healthy and giving up habits that could harm the unborn baby becomes crucial during this period.

Smoking and drinking excessive alcohol are two habits that pregnant women must say goodbye to – both can cause harmful complications for the baby, or even lead to death. Read on for the relations between smoking, drinking with pregnant women.

Smoking and pregnancy

Tobacco in cigarettes contains nicotine, tar products, carbon monoxide and arsenic, all of which are harmful for the baby. Smoking during pregnancy reduces the amount of blood flowing through the placenta, which slows down growth in the baby. Women who smoke during pregnancy are at a higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Babies born to mothers who smoke are at a higher risk of illnesses like cold, ear infections, bronchitis, asthma, etc., and breathing problems later in childhood.

Since smoking can be a difficult habit to leave, some pregnant women might assume that smoking might be all right as long as they do not inhale the smoke. However, the tobacco gets absorbed in the mouth and throat through the mucous membranes, and all harmful substances in the smoke can still reach the baby.

Further, passive smoking or second-hand smoke can also cause pregnancy complications. Women who not smoke but are around people or in smoking zones expose their babies to the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Alcohol and pregnancy

Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy increase the risk of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in their babies, along with the risk of a miscarriage.

FAS manifests in form of various physical and mental disorders like:

  • Reduced intellectual ability
  • Cleft palate
  • Defects in heart
  • Disability in arms, legs, face and fingers
  • Reduced attention span
  • Hyperactivity

Is there a safe limit of drinking alcohol during pregnancy?

The answer is no.

There is no conclusive evidence to guide regarding how much alcohol could be safe during pregnancy, as every body reacts differently to alcohol. Further, more a mother drinks, more it is also received by the baby. It is best to completely avoid alcohol during the entire term of pregnancy.

Alcohol is particularly harmful for the baby during the first trimester, wherein all major organs like heart, brain and lungs develop. This makes it important to stop alcohol even before becoming pregnant, as it could be few weeks before a woman realizes she has conceived.

The baby inside the womb does not have a choice over its nutrition, but his/her mother does – staying healthy and staying away from harmful substances are the best gifts for the baby during this time.

Sources:

Image courtesy of [kdshutterman] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Alcohol and smoking in pregnancy,” indirect.gov.uk, http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/alcohol-and-smoking-in-pregnancy

“Pregnancy and Substance Abuse,” MedlinePlus, NLM, NIH, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/pregnancyandsubstanceabuse.html

“Smoking, Alcohol, and Drugs Can Harm Your Baby,” UPMC.com, University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, http://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/pregnancy/pages/smoking-alcohol-and-drugs-can-harm-your-baby.aspx

“Women drinking, smoking in pregnancy,” The Sydney Morning Herald, Rachel Wells, November 15, 2011, http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/women-drinking-smoking-in-pregnancy-20111114-1nfsh.html

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