Public Health Campaign to Improve Prenatal Development in the U.S.
Normal prenatal development is at stake due to high alcohol intake during pregnancy. It is unfortunate that the prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome among other alcohol teratogenic defects has been relatively high in the U.S. yet these can be prevented with little difficulties. It would be wise to create awareness on these effects. Pregnant women should be assisted by nurses to stop alcohol intake during pregnancy accompanied with screening for alcohol intake during pregnancy. This would go a long way in preventing the severe teratogenic effects of alcohol on the developing fetus.
During transient stage of teratogenesis, the mother can degrade the substance and thus the impact of the substance may not cause permanent damage on the fetal tissue. This however depends on the maternal nutrition status, susceptibility and genetics. The Institute of Medicine estimated cases of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in the United States to be between 0.5 and 2.0 cases per 1,000 live births (Stratton, Howe & Battaglia, 1996). This however could be an under estimate. It is a major challenge to determine the true estimate as children with FAS are normally diagnosed with other disorders.
To get an accurate prevalence rate of FAS requires the use of expensive epidemiologic methods (May, et al 2009). These techniques were applied in South Africa and they revealed a high FAS rate of 65 to 74 per 1,000 live births (Viljoen et al. 2005). A case study done in Italy showed an FAS rate of 3.7 to 7.4 per 1,000 live births (May et al. 2006). FAS is estimated to affect at least 1 percent of live births in the United States, 7 to 9 percent in South Africa and 2 to 4 percent in Italy (Viljoen et al., 2005). Since alcohol is a low molecular substance, it easily crosses the placenta to the fetus. This causes the level of alcohol to be almost the same level that of the mother. If an expectant mother takes excess alcohol before the blastocyst is embedded on the uterus wall, a miscarriage can easily happen.
Before the end of 36th day of pregnancy, most of the organs such as brain, eyes, and mouth among others have already been formed. If alcohol is taken during this critical period of development, it can lead to various forms of malformation on the fetus. Teratogenic effects occurs throughout the pregnancy period, affecting mostly the brain development and function during the later stage of the pregnancy period. Alcohol affects both brain function and development. A baby can be born with a brain which is small in size or reduced number of brain neurons with altered distribution which can easily lead to mental handicap (Stratton, Howe & Battaglia, 1996).
A lot of experiments that have been done have confirmed that alcohol consumed during the period of pregnancy causes negative brain developments which are irreversible. New born babies whose mothers drink alcohol during pregnancy show poor overall performance. They are usually born with light weight and have difficulties turning off redundant stimuli which are a basic function of the nervous system of the infant. By the age of eight months and onwards, they have lower IQ levels, slow mental developments, poorer attention and balance (Stratton, Howe & Battaglia, 1996).
Nurses who have information on teratology should assist families in preventing neonatal malformation. The most effective way of prevention is to stop alcohol intake or drastically reducing alcohol intake during the pregnancy period. Another prevention measure involves the recognition of high-risk drinking in pregnant women. Screening is highly effective in reducing and eliminating risky drinking. Though such tools are available they are not used often. Teratogen alcohol can completely be prevented if women will abstain from drinking alcohol when pregnant. Information given from teratology has been shown to reduce fetal malformations and pregnancy terminations.
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