As citizens, we are accorded with rights to enable our mental and physical well-being. But there are thousands of unborn children who don't have such rights because they suffer at the hands of expectant mothers who risk their lives and well-being, by consuming alcohol and drugs through their pregnancies.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disease (FASD) is common and a major cause of babies being born with birth injuries that more often than not, result in irreversible brain damage. A prenatal exposure to alcohol can have long-lasting and damaging effects on babies. Depending on the extent of the brain damage, these effects can extend to major birth defects ranging from physical, learning and behavioral disabilities, as well as to delayed development and neurological issues as well.
The toxic repercussions of prenatal alcohol exposure are widespread, with its effects visible almost throughout the brain; irregularities in brain structure, a compromised brain function and resulting cognitive and behavioral impairments are common.
The initial damage is often invisible in the sense that it only becomes evident as the child grows. Some babies with FASD have distinct facial features like a thin upper lip, small eyes or little or no gap between the nose and upper lip. These traits are visible in babies who have been affected with FASD owing to consumption of alcohol at specific stages of pregnancy. But all babies affected by FASD will suffer an extent of brain damage in different degrees, affecting their motor skills, memory, cognitive abilities, social skills, judgment, reasoning and their attention spans.
While there is more than adequate literature available for expectant mothers on the dos and don'ts of pregnancies, there is still an alarming number of cases of babies being born with FASD. And even though medical science has advanced leaps and bounds in the past years, there is no treatment than can reverse the effects of brain damage caused to a baby because of alcohol consumption by expectant mothers.
When alcohol enters the blood stream of a pregnant woman, it gets absorbed into the blood stream of the fetus as well, affecting the developing brain and causing irreparable damage. And it really doesn't matter at what stage the alcohol is consumed, since the baby's brain is in a developing stage throughout the pregnancy.
The effects of FASD are lasting, and it's a massive burden not just for the child but society at large. Special care and support is required for children with FASD. Resources in the form of support groups, medical facilities, counseling, early intervention education and adult classes aimed at equipping them with dealing with FASD children are available. However, it is the taxpayers' money that is going towards such treatment that could well be avoided altogether.
Studies have shown that a large percentage of children diagnosed with FASD suffer acute behavioral problems, often resulting in delinquent personalities. Many such children end up in mental health facilities and even prison. FASD may not be detected in its initial stages, but, many a times, FASD manifests in later years or it becomes more visible with certain behavioral traits or learning limitations. These may sometimes be confused with other developmental disabilities.
The tragedy of brain damage at birth is bad enough, however, the real tragedy is that it could have been prevented. This is why it is so important for expectant mothers to stay away from alcohol consumption for the entire duration of their pregnancy, since there is no known safe amount of alcohol that a woman can consume during her pregnancy.
Even for couples who are actively trying to conceive, it's just safer for the woman to stay off alcohol for this period of time as well.
If there are no plans of conceiving, the use of birth control should strongly be encouraged to avoid unplanned pregnancies. Nearly half of the reported pregnancies that occur in North America are unplanned, with the risk of pre-natal exposure to alcohol being frequent in the first trimester of a pregnancy. With women being unaware of their pregnancies till much later, the damage can already be done by the time they find out.
An alarming 1 to 9 babies in every 1000 is said to suffer from FASD in North America; that's a whopping 2% to 5% of the entire population, for a completely preventable disease. To think of the damage that can be caused to a fetus owing to absolutely unnecessary alcohol consumption is the real tragedy in itself.
In a day and age when information is so easily available, there is no excuse for making wrong choices, especially when those choices can have a direct and lasting impact on the life of another. Yet, alcohol consumption continues to be a leading cause of preventable birth defects.