It won’t surprise anyone to hear that some women drink when they are pregnant, as dangerous as that might be for their soon-to-arrive child.
But here is something that might startle you: In San Luis Obispo County, nearly one in three pregnant women — 30 percent — imbibes alcohol during the first three months of her pregnancy.
Eighteen percent drink throughout the pregnancy, most of them taking in three to five drinks a week.
The numbers alarm the county Public Health Department, which says pregnant women should not drink at all.
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“There is no safe amount,” public health nurse Jan Campbell said. “Of all the drugs, alcohol is the worst.”
Why? Because the baby could end up damaged, a victim of its mother’s untimely alcohol consumption.
The problems that can arise are known collectively as fetal alcohol syndrome disorder.
They include mental retardation, learning disabilities, attention deficits and behavior disorders. Some don’t show up until the child is 5 or 6 years old, Campbell said.
All of these are “entirely preventable,” according to a resolution adopted last week by the Board of Supervisors, which proclaimed Sept. 9 National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day.
“Healthy children are the most important resource in San Luis Obispo County,” supervisors wrote in their resolution, and the disorders “pose a serious threat to the potential health of our future generation(s).”
The date was chosen because it is the ninth day of the ninth month, and reminds women they should abstain from alcohol for the entire nine months.
The damaging effects of alcohol on a fetus have been known for at least 30 years, and people around the world have been observing FASD Day since 1999.
Locally, Campbell said, many people drink socially or casually. “This is wine country,” she said. “We’re surrounded by vineyards.”
Campbell is not blaming the wine economy for drinking during pregnancy. But it does contribute to behavioral patterns.
She said that even educated, middle-class women, who have been exposed to this information and should know better, drink during pregnancy.
“Why would anyone want to take that chance?” she asks.
Campbell said that 2,900 children are born annually in the county, and she and others have been busy trying to educate mothers-to-be about the dangers of drinking while pregnant.
They have gone to high schools and counseled obstetricians, among other activities.
Their bottom line: If you are going to have a baby, lay off the liquor. It’s bad for the youngster, at birth and later in his or her life.