Mothers who endanger the health and well being of their children are considered deviant, possibly, in almost all cultures in the world. Certainly, this is a sensitive and loaded topic that normally provokes strong societal response. The labeling of a deviant mother often involves the legislative system, child services and other governmental organizations. Beyond doubt, most people will agree it is absolutely deviant for an expectant mother to drink alcohol. However, is drinking during pregnancy a discussed issue in our society? Do we just assume that everyone is aware of the medical research on the negative effects of alcohol? Do we simply expect pregnant women to be responsible?
An adult’s decision making on behalf of a minor should serve the best interest of the child. The same should be true for a mother’s decisions that might affect her inborn baby. This is not a matter of personal choice anymore, as, inevitably, another life is to be affected.
Scientists explain, there are many poisonous substances – teratogens – that could be endangering the life of a fetus that is particularly vulnerable in this early stage of prenatal development. Alcohol is the most common teratogen (National Task Forces on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Affects, 2002). Teratogenic exposure of alcohol may cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE).
The life of the inborn child that is ‘poisoned’ with the alcohol can be severely impaired by a debilitating disorder such as FAS. With this syndrome, the alcohol ingested during pregnancy affects the normal development of the baby. Facial features are particularly vulnerable to change, especially the situation and opening of the eyes, ears and the upper lip of the baby.
Even if the newborn looks unharmed, alcohol could have still affected the brain, and more specifically the Central Nervous System, causing hyperactivity, poor concentration, impaired spatial reasoning, and mental retardation (Streissguth & Conner, 2001). In addition, the child has a slow physical growth and relatively small stature, compared to peers. The poor coordination, mental retardation, poor reasoning and judgment could profoundly affect the life of the child, making even the simple daily activities an impossible burden. Even if the condition of the child is not severe, there are, certainly some differences.
Alcoholics’ children who have never had a drink on their own still show distinct brain patterns that can only be compared to those of alcoholic adults (Agarwal, 2001). Scientists warn that children affected by FAS are at much greater risk of psychiatric problems. Also, they are more likely to engage in criminal behavior. Statistics reveal that more than 50% of children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome grow up to have trouble with the law. Many of the shocking homicide cases that have been covered in the press have involved a person, who was diagnosed with a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
On a macro level, it is shocking to learn how many people are affected directly, and how many more suffer the consequences around them. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 1 out of 500 children is “damaged” in certain degree because of the irresponsible alcohol consumption of the mother. Many of these children require special help and need to be included in specialized programs that yearly cost billions of dollars. Many of the children require special educations and face the Juvenile Justice System. By no means should this issue be underestimated, especially when data demonstrates a threatening growth of the rate of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome each year.
Scientist and physicians are not certain as to what amount of alcohol is dangerous. Some still advice pregnant women to have a glass of red whine, while others are strictly against such practice, saying: “No amount of alcohol is safe for the fetus.”
When a pregnant woman is drinking, do we have the right to intervene? Could we enforce our understanding and concern? As far as I know, there are no laws prohibiting ‘pregnant drinking’ although it does not sound to me like a bad idea. The irony is we try to protect young people from alcohol until the age of 21, but that is virtually useless if we do not protect them prenatally.