Pregnancy is a time of many hormonal and physical changes not only for the expectant mother, but also for the baby developing inside her. Proper nutrition is critical during this time; women should also limit their exposure to toxic substances and harmful chemicals that can sometimes create difficulties during pregnancy and may even injure the unborn child. Smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages are two activities that can cause serious problems during pregnancy; most medical experts recommend that women refrain from these substances throughout the pregnancy since they have been connected to birth defects, low birth weights, respiratory difficulties and other serious medical problems for babies.
Alcohol Use During Pregnancy
Most medical authorities now recommend that pregnant women avoid the use of alcohol entirely. In some cases, alcohol can pass virtually unchanged through the placenta to the baby, putting strain on the developing liver and potentially causing serious health issues for the unborn child. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can result from alcohol use during pregnancy; these conditions typically result in delays in development both before and after delivery. The most serious of these disorders is known as fetal alcohol syndrome and usually manifests itself after delivery; symptoms include decreased muscle tone, delayed development throughout infancy and early childhood, heart defects and a characteristic facial appearance including smaller features and reduced cranial capacity. Alcohol use can also cause birth defects, learning disabilities, delays in development and other serious disorders that can cause lifelong problems for the child. Babies who are exposed to alcohol in the womb are at significantly higher risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and liver problems that may require medical treatment or may even cause a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Smoking During Pregnancy
Cigarettes and the nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar that they contain can be toxic both to expecting mothers but also to their babies. Cigarettes are damaging not only for their ingredients, but also because smoking can deprive the body of much-needed oxygen during these critical times. Babies born to mothers that smoke are at higher risk for low birth weights, premature birth and a variety of birth defects including cleft palate or cleft lip. Smoking increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy, a condition that is invariably fatal for the unborn child and life-threatening for the mother as well. Cigarettes also increase the risk of stillbirth or miscarriage as well as the likelihood of placental abruption or placenta previa, serious conditions that can significantly impact the health and life of the unborn baby. Secondary effects of premature births caused by smoking can include serious disabilities including cerebral palsy and mental retardation.
Expectant mothers who do not smoke but who are exposed to cigarette smoke frequently at work or in their homes can experience significant health difficulties for themselves and their babies as a result of this exposure. The effects of secondhand smoke include an increased risk of low birth weight at delivery and greater chances of respiratory difficulties including asthma, bronchitis and sinus infections for both mother and baby before and after the delivery.
The negative effects of these substances can be devastating and result in lifelong problems for the unborn child. By avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke and alcohol throughout the pregnancy, expectant mothers can give their babies the best possible start in life and improve their chances of delivering a healthy, full-term baby.