The unattended dangers of alcohol and smoking during pregnancy

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Several Nigerian women have confessed to smoking and drinking during pregnancy. @DrVickie_ takes a closer look

In Nigeria, issues of alcohol and alcohol consumption are often missed during antenatal because it’s believed not to be part of the commonest problem being faced by pregnant mothers. But experience has proven otherwise.

This was not the case for a 16-year old young pregnant lady who came to clinic for eye check up. She looked well taken care of from physical appearance; also, she was a university undergraduate student. It was assumed that everything was fine until she made her complaint about her protruding eyes and occasional blurring of vision. After all the history and examinations, she was discovered to be a drug addict – who had been attending antenatal clinic for two months!

She said she did not know how to overcome her drinking and smoking habits. The topic never came up during her antenatal consults when she could have been counselled on how to go about it.

Even though neglected during antenatal health talks, researches have shown that the level of consumption of alcohol among pregnant women is increasingly high irrespective of age, marital status, or level of education – particularly when alcohol has been part of their normal lifestyles.

A large percentage of pregnant women said they were aware they should not be drinking or smoking in pregnancy but the knowledge of the consequence was found to be deficient.

Here’s the problem

Smoking in pregnancy exposes the developing baby to harmful chemicals such as tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide. Nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict, so less oxygen and nutrients reach the fetus. Carbon monoxide decreases the amount of oxygen the baby receives. Alcohol on the other hand quickly reaches the fetus through the placenta. In an adult, the liver breaks down the alcohol. A baby’s liver is not fully developed and is not able to break down alcohol.

The risks of preterm birth and problems with the way the placenta attaches to the uterus are increased in women who smoke during pregnancy. Also, infants born to women who smoke during pregnancy tend to be smaller than those born to nonsmokers. They are more likely to have asthma, colic, and childhood obesity.

They also have an increased risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

“Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders” is a term that describes different effects that can occur in infants when women drink during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and learning disabilities that can last a lifetime.

There is no safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy. Alcohol can affect the fetus throughout pregnancy. It is best not to drink at all while pregnant. If alcohol was being taken before pregnancy was discovered, further harm to the baby can be prevented by stopping alcohol consumption.

The whole purpose of antenatal care is to deliver healthy baby to a happy mother, patients struggling with their lifestyle should make it their responsibility to inform their health care provider in other to get the necessary support. Health education is also required to change the attitude of the public and the knowledge and behavior of the pregnant women.

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About Author

Dr. Victoria Adepoju is a graduate of the College of Health Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Nigeria. She also holds a diploma in Community Health from the School of Hygiene Eleyele Ibadan, Nigeria. Currently with the Babcock University Teaching Hospital, she provides special insights into topical issues as they affect various stakeholders in the health sector with special emphasis on day-to-day operations of the various units in the hospital. She has vast experience reporting health and continues to cover major events for HealthNewsNG.com