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Pregnant Women and Drinking – What Works, What Does Not

August 22, 2019
Plain English Version

Most pregnant women follow medical advice on forgoing alcohol, but what is the best way to reach those who don’t? Perhaps not signs like these. Photo Credit: Joe Fornabaio for The New York Times.

How do you get people to behave the way you want them to? Some people offer carrots or sticks – rewards or punishments. Or, some people offer education and advice.

For example, take efforts to get people to stop smoking. Campaigns show smokers what smoking does to their health. These have worked to reduce the number of smokers. But there is another way that works as well. Bans on smoking discourage people from taking up or using tobacco products.

In the case of smoking, education as well as rules to prohibit smoking, do work.

A pregnant woman is in charge of her health and the health of her fetus during the nine months of gestation. Many say these months are the most critical in a lifetime.

Should not the mother do everything she can to make the baby safe and healthy? The answer, of course, is yes. But people do not always do what is best for them. Sometimes they do not know what is best. Often, experts tell what is best, but they do not believe them. Some women decide the matter for themselves. They think they know what is best.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders refer to problems in babies and children. These include low birth weight, impaired growth, and problems in the heart, kidneys, and brain. Children can have physical and psychological developmental delays. They can exhibit difficulties in talking, learning and have lower I.Q.s. Some of these problems will last a lifetime.

Infants of women who drink alcohol in pregnancy may develop these disorders. Experts do not know the level of alcohol that could cause a child to develop these disorders. They do not know about the timing. They do not know why some women who drink a little might have a child with problems. They do not know why some women who drink a lot might have a child with no problems.

A new study says that there is a problem in telling women that drinking while pregnant is a form of child abuse. That such drinking can trigger a call to child protective services. This can keep some women from seeking prenatal care.

Many states have policies for mothers who drink. They can get treatment for substance abuse. Some states define drinking while pregnant as a form of child abuse or neglect.

The purpose is to make things better for children. The new study says they do not always work. Some places pushed mothers to stop drinking. These communities had more preterm births and more low-weight babies.

After that finding, things get a little confused. No one knows precisely what to do. There is agreement that the best thing is to get pregnant women into the health care system. Do not brow-beat them into not drinking or smoking. The system has to find ways to encourage good behavior.

Source: The New York Times August 19, 2019

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