By Lauren Bartell Weiss, Ph.D.
As International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day approaches, people all around the world are planning events to raise awareness about the potential risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy and the difficulties of people and families who struggle with FASD. The first FASDay was celebrated on 9/9/99. This day was chosen so that on the ninth day of the ninth month of the year, the world will remember that during the nine months of pregnancy, a woman should abstain from drinking alcohol. As a published researcher specializing in nutrition and it’s impact during pregnancy, I thought about how I could do my part during FASD Awareness Month. It came down to spreading the word about what I know best- good nutrition.
You might be asking yourself, “what does nutrition have to do with FASD?” The answer might surprise you. Let’s start with some facts about alcohol consumption. Approximately 60% of child-bearing-aged women consume alcohol and it has been suggested that up to 30% of women drink while pregnant. In addition, about 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and it is likely that a woman may unintentionally drink during the early stages of pregnancy.
Here’s where nutrition comes into play. While the recommendation is still to abstain from consuming alcohol during pregnancy, there are ways to reduce potential risks to the baby by optimizing your nutrition status. While eating a healthy balanced diet is very important for health and disease prevention in general, women of childbearing age, especially those who consume alcohol, should also take a multivitamin/prenatal supplement to maximize their nutritional health in the event that they do unexpectedly become pregnant. Pregnancy increases the demand for many vitamins and minerals in order to adequately support a developing fetus and alcohol can interfere with nutritional supply from the mom to the unborn baby. It can also change the metabolism of the nutrients. This can be dangerous by potentially increasing the risk of pregnancy and baby complications and, also, of birth defects. There is strong evidence that a deficiency in folic acid is associated with an increased risk of neural tube defects. Folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy protects against this. The same may hold true for other vitamins and minerals in the protection of FASD so taking extra vitamin supplements before and during pregnancy may serve as a type of “insurance policy” if a pregnancy were to occur.
A new study I co-authored found a link between multivitamin use and alcohol consumption during pregnancy. We looked at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s multiple-state Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) of more than 100,000 women between 2004 and 2008. The women answered a series of questions involving their alcohol use before pregnancy as well as multivitamin consumption during it. The study found women who reported consuming alcohol regularly or binge drinking were significantly less likely to take a multivitamin supplement compared with those who did not report alcohol consumption. The findings of this study, in addition to other research, emphasize the importance for all women of childbearing age, especially those who drink alcohol, to take a multivitamin supplement regularly whether they’re planning to have children or not.
I now encourage you to do your part during FASD Awareness Month by spreading the word about daily multivitamin use among your circle of friends. Let them know, a prenatal vitamin today could make for a healthier child tomorrow, even if they don’t plan on starting a family for a very long time.
MotherToBaby has facts sheets on alcohol’s risks during pregnancy and breastfeeding, which can be found at MotherToBaby.org. For more information or to get a personalized risk assessment about alcohol, medications or other exposures, call MotherToBaby toll-free at (866) 626-6847. MotherToBaby is a service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS). MotherToBaby and OTIS are suggested resources by many agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
About the Author
Lauren Bartell Weiss, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UC San Diego’s Center for the Promotion of Maternal Health and Infant Development and co-author of “Associations Between Multivitamin Supplement Use and Alcohol Consumption Before Pregnancy: Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, 2004 to 2008,” which was published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research earlier this year.
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