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  • C-Sema Team

The effects of alcohol on your unborn baby

If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant then alcohol is a no-go. Alcohol consumption by pregnant mothers can have numerous effects on the unborn baby. This article will focus on how alcohol can reach a baby in the womb, some effects of drinking alcohol on the foetus and what developmental milestones you should observe in your baby.

When a baby is in the womb, it feeds through the umbilical cord/placenta. When the mother eats, water and nutrients are absorbed from her blood through the cord and into the baby's blood. An expectant mother who eats well-balanced meals therefore ensures her unborn baby has all the nutrients it needs for healthy development. In the same way, alcohol is absorbed into the baby's system through the placenta as explained by Dr Raja Mukherjee who works for Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

The foetusliver isn't fully formed, so it relies on the mother's liver to metabolise (break down) the alcohol. When the alcohol passes from the mother into the foetus' body it lacks oxygen and the nutrients needed for its brain and organs to grow properly. White matter in the brain, which is responsible for speeding up the processing of information, is sensitive to alcohol, says Dr Mukherjee. So when a mother drinks, it affects the development of her baby's white matter.

Although no amount of alcohol is safe, the effects of alcohol on an unborn baby are observed to be more severe with higher alcohol intake. Alcohol affects the way a baby's brain develops and causes damage to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

Effects can also be seen much later in the child's life including learning disabilities, poor academic achievement, poor organisation, difficulty writing or drawing, balance problems, attention and hyperactivity problems. These are collectively called Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.

The effects of alcohol on an unborn baby are also determined by the time when alcohol was consumed. Alcohol consumed during week three to week six of a pregnancy can cause facial deformities in the developing foetus as this is the time when facial features are formed in the womb.

Drinking can also cause damage to other organs that develop during the first trimester. The brain and spinal cord develop throughout the nine months of pregnancy. These two control most body functions and can be harmed by alcohol intake at any point during the pregnancy.

According to child care specialists, a six-month-old baby should be able to do most of the following things; since birth, he/she should be able to turn his neck towards sounds, be able to look at you while feeding, smile when she sees and hears familiar people, cry when he / she feels bothered (angry, sick, hungry, etc.), make a wide range of noises including tiny hiccups and eventually should attempt to place everything in his mouth. If you have concerns about your child's development, talk to your pediatrician about them.

To state the obvious, you shouldn't drink alcohol when you are pregnant and should quit as soon as you find out you're having a baby. Women don't usually figure out they are pregnant until they are a few weeks into their first trimester. This means you may have consumed a drink or two in the first couple of weeks. If this is the case, make sure to tell your doctor so that they can run tests and keep a close eye on any possible abnormalities as the baby develops. If you are trying for a baby, it is best that you cut the alcohol now (and your partner as well).'

Information in this article has been sourced from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as well as Drinkaware, an independent charity working to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK.

For comments and/or inquires please call 116 National Child Helpline. This is a toll free service available across all networks in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. Facebook: Sema Tanzania; Twitter: @SemaTanzania or visit our website:


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