Study says women unknowingly exposing babies to fetal alcohol syndrome

CLARENCE, N.Y. (WIVB) Too many women are exposing their unborn babies to the dangers of fetal alcohol syndrome, according to a study released this week by the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC’s study has sparked a firestorm online, where commenters believe the new guidelines are too stringent and lack merit.

Doctors and parents know those first few weeks of pregnancy are critical.

Major organs begin to grow within the first month, and alcohol consumption could have longterm effects on the pregnancy and on the baby after it’s born.

“Alcohol causes birth defects in babies. There is no treatment for fetal alcohol syndrome. The damage has already been done because the baby was exposed to alcohol in utero,” said Dr. Thomas Riley, of Women and Children’s Hospital. “Thin lip, small head, probably some brain abnormalities, and these babies go on to develop developmental delay.”

The problem for OBGYNs like Kristen Smyers, is many women don’t know they’re pregnant when it happens, and treatment doesn’t begin until well after conception.

“The majority of our patients come in already pregnant,” Smyers said. “And it’s something we’re dealing with after the fact to address those things.”

The CDC says more than 3 million women, ages 15 to 44, are at risk of exposing their babies to fetal alcohol syndrome. Most women — 75 percent, according to the study — who are trying to become pregnant continue drinking after they stop taking birth control.

“I think it’s a significant change in terms of warning women ahead of time, preconception counseling, which we like to do, but don’t always have the opportunity to do enough of,” Smyers said.

The new guidelines issued by the CDC could change what patients hear from their doctors, especially if they’re planning a pregnancy.l

“I think it’s a good reminder for us as providers, and certainly something that should be discussed, not just at a preconception visit, but also at an annual visit,” Smyers said. “We can now mention, in addition to stopping birth control, starting your prenatal vitamin, please also make sure you abstain from alcohol use.”

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