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Why is alcohol a problem in pregnancy? Alcohol is a toxin. When you drink alcohol, it rapidly reaches your baby through the placenta, via your bloodstream. Heavy, regular or binge drinking can cause miscarriage and premature birth. Too much alcohol can even increase the risk of your baby being stillborn. If you drink too much alcohol during pregnancy, it can permanently damage your developing baby's cells. This could affect how your baby's face, organs and brain grow. Heavy drinking can also damage your baby's nervous system. This can mean that your baby develops fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), with problems that can range from mild learning difficulties or social problems, through to birth defects. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is at the extreme end of the spectrum of disorders. Babies with FAS tend to have facial defects, be born small, and carry on being small for their age. They also have learning difficulties, poor muscle tone and coordination, and behavioural problems, for the rest of their lives. FAS is thankfully rare, with 10 cases happening in the UK in 2004. FASD is more common, and is thought to affect more than 6,000 babies a year in the UK. Due to the harm that too much alcohol may unborn baby, experts are wary of saying much it's safe to drink alcohol during pregnancy.

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Cocaine during pregnancy.

Prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) occurs when a pregnant woman uses cocaine and thereby exposes her fetus to the drug. "Crack baby" was a term coined to describe children who were exposed to crack (cocaine in smokable form) as fetuses; the concept of the crack baby emerged in the US during the 1980s and 1990s in the midst of a crack epidemic. Fears were widespread that a generation of crack babies were going to put severe strain on society and social services as they grew up. Later studies failed to substantiate the findings of earlier ones that PCE has severe disabling consequences; these earlier studies had been methodologically flawed (e.g. with small sample sizes and confounding factors). Scientists have come to understand that the findings of the early studies were vastly overstated and that most people who were exposed to cocaine in utero do not have disabilities.

Nicotine during pregnancy

The first suggestion of an association between maternal smoking and preterm labour and delivery came in 1957 and identified a premature birth-rate nearly twice that of non-smokers. Also, a dose–response relationship of cigarette smoking and premature delivery was described. This association has thereafter been confirmed in a number of studies, but data have also given conflicting results. A recent study offers a possible explanation to the discrepancy as it indicates that maternal smoking in fact lowers the risk of very preterm birth due to gestational hypertension, but increases the risk of very preterm birth due to other mechanisms. This complexity may also explain why the effects of maternal smoking are connected to the parity of the mother. Also in a study from the USA, the association between smoking and preterm delivery before 33 weeks’ gestation was stronger than for later preterm delivery.



The first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a baby's development. A newborn's brain is about 25 percent of its approximate adult weight. But by age 3, it has grown dramatically by producing billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these cells. While we know that the development of a young child's brain takes years to complete, we also know there are many things parents and caregivers can do to help children get off to a good start and establish healthy patterns for life-long learning.

Pregnancy Magazine  
Pregnancy Magazine