18 June 2015

Rwanda: Alcohol During Pregnancy Is a Recipe for Disaster, Experts Say

Alcohol causes more than 200 diseases among its addicts as well as devastating effects to unborn children, according to experts.

Experts say alcohol has adverse effects on pregnant women and has also got the potential to prevent women from getting pregnant.

"The baby's body is formed during the first three months hence alcohol consumed during this period can result in physical abnormalities in the child like neural tube defects and the most severe result of alcohol use is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a lifelong condition characterized by poor growth (in the womb, after birth, or both), abnormal facial features and damage to the central nervous system," Dr. David Mwesigye, a gynecologist, said.

"Babies with FAS may also have abnormally small heads and brains, heart, spine, and other anatomical defects. The central nervous system damage may also include intellectual disability, thus the baby has learning and grasping problems along with language problem delays in physical development, vision and hearing impairments and a variety of behavioral problems," he added.

Dr Mwesigye said this problem occurs because alcohol passes from the mother to the fetus through the placenta and the liver of the fetus is not mature enough to metabolize it correctly. Apart from the effects mentioned above, alcohol intake can also increase the risk of miscarriages and stillbirth.

"As little as one drink a day can raise the odds for having a baby with a low birth weight and increase your child's risk for having problems with learning, speech, attention span, language, and hyperactivity," Dr Mwesigye said.

He said that even though there is no study showing the prevalence of the problem in the country, there is need to continue sensitizing women about the dangers of alcohol abuse.

Carine Ingabire, a mother of one, said that when she got pregnant she started craving for alcohol yet she had never tested it before.

"I was confused and my mother advised me to take it to avoid risking miscarriage. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy and I see nothing wrong with drinking alcohol," she said.

Dr. Mwesigye, while reacting to this, said pregnancy can make women crave for unusual things but advised women to seek medical advice in case of situations.

"Sometimes, as in the case of alcohol or drugs, the substance might be toxic to the pregnancy that why it is advisable that you seek medical advice before taking anything because that craving can be an awareness of a certain vitamin or mineral deficiency, for instance a craving for milk might mean you need calcium while a craving for fruit may signal a need for vitamin C," he said.

He said that one might confide that she enjoyed the occasional beer during pregnancy and her child turned out fine because they have higher levels of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol but unfortunately, some pregnant women have low levels of this enzyme and drinking alcohol can expose their unborn babies to serious health hazards.

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