WHILE some doctors are of the view that there is nothing wrong with taking a few sips of alcohol during pregnancy, others believe it's best to go alcohol free once the decision is made to conceive, since consumption could pose a risk to an unborn child.
Obstetrician/gynaecologist Dr Leslie Meade suggests that expectant mothers cut out alcohol completely at least three months prior to conceiving, or at least upon hearing that they are pregnant to facilitate the birth of a healthy child.
"For me, there is no amount of alcohol that I consider safe in pregnancy. I know some authorities may say moderate alcohol consumption is okay, but you have to look at various factors when you are talking about alcohol consumption during pregnancy," he said.
"We know that people who drink also tend to smoke, and because of the alcohol consumption, sometimes their nutritional status is not adequate, so all of these factors combined put the foetus and the mother who is pregnant at great risk, and so I encourage people and usually encourage my patients not to drink during pregnancy," the OBGYN pointed out.
Alcohol intake during pregnancy has been shown to result in a number of developmental challenges and birth defects which become noticeable upon birth or during the first few years of a child's life. This is because alcohol usually passes through the placenta to the foetus.
"During the antenatal period, the babies tend to grow less, so you'll tend to have intra-uterine growth and retardation. Also there are problems in terms of the neurological development of the baby, and so when they are born, they tend to have behavioural problems or some level of mental retardation as well, and of course their intelligence tend to also decrease," explained Dr Meade.
"They also tend to have congenital abnormalities, particularly of the heart and of the skeletal system, and they tend to have some neurological development problems as well," he said.
One of the commonest problems associated with drinking during pregnancy is foetal alcohol syndrome, which is a combination of physical and mental birth defects. It is one of the only types of disabilities that is entirely preventable.
"When you see babies that have the foetal alcohol syndrome, they tend to have what we call low set ears, so the ears tend to be lower than where they would normally be in a baby, the face tends to be elongated, and they tend to have deformities, particularly of the lower limbs," Dr Meade said.
Although some women continue to drink because they are unaware that they are pregnant, there is not much that can be done to reverse the likely damage to the baby, since a baby's organs are usually developed during the first three months of pregnancy. However, you can curtail the extent of this damage by discontinuing your consumption of alcohol.
Instead of drinking alcoholic beverages, you can drink water or fruit juice. A healthy diet is also good for the baby and so kicking your drinking habit to the curb will go a far way in ensuring a healthy pregnancy.
"When you are pregnant, you should be taking in things that are more nutritious. Alcohol gives you energy because of its high caloric content and that's all you get from alcohol, so there is nothing nutritious about it," said Dr Meade.