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Protecting Unborn from Damaging Effects of Alcohol Exposure

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - Campus News -

What if a single question could help protect more babies from a range of lifelong physical, behavioral and intellectual disorders? 
  
A study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center shows that it can. 
  
“Our goal was to evaluate screening measures for alcohol-exposed pregnancies that could be implemented in clinical practice,” said principal researcher Tatiana Balachova, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, OU College of Medicine.    
  
The study found that participants’ responses to a single question could effectively screen women across cultures.  That single question was this: “During the previous three months, how often did you have four or more drinks on one occasion?” 
  
“The research is important as we work to find simple screenings that can help health care providers better identify women whose behaviors might put their babies at risk,” Balachova said. 
  
She pointed out that research shows alcohol consumption during pregnancy increases risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, and sudden infant death syndrome and can cause a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disorders in children, called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. The most recognized condition of the spectrum is fetal alcohol syndrome characterized by specific facial characteristics along with growth deficiencies and central nervous system disorders. 
  
“These disorders are completely preventable by abstaining from alcohol while pregnant or considering becoming pregnant,” Balachova said. “Despite myths, there is no scientific evidence available that sets a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol or time during pregnancy that will not affect the developing fetus.” 
  
Despite warnings, she said about one in every 13 pregnant women report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. More than half of all women of childbearing age report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. 
  
“Given that about half of pregnancies in United States are unintended, and a woman may not know she is pregnant until four to six weeks of gestation, women often continue consuming alcohol at pre-pregnancy levels until they become aware of their pregnancy. This places their children at risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders,” Balachova said.  
  
To increase awareness about the long-term effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy on babies, Balachova and her colleagues at OU Medicine’s Center on Child Abuse and Neglect have joined in the International Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders Awareness Day. 
  
“Around the world, in every time zone from New Zealand to Alaska, people gather on Sept. 9 for events that raise awareness about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and the plight of individuals and families who struggle with these disorders,” Balachova said. 
  
She explained that the date — the ninth day of the ninth month — is symbolic of the nine-month human gestation period to remind everyone about the risks of drinking during the nine months of pregnancy.   
  
In recognition of the international awareness day, Gov.r Mary Fallin has proclaimed Sept. 9, 2015, as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day in Oklahoma. 
  
The study by Balachova and fellow researchers appears in the international journal Addictive Behaviors. The research was funded by Grant number R01AA016234 from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Fogarty International Center (Brain Disorders in the Developing World: Research Across the Lifespan).    
  
To learn more online about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders Awareness Day, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/features/alcoholfasd/ 

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