In keeping with my usual pattern of updating you on the monthly observations relevant to addiction and addiction recovery, today I’m recognizing January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month!
Each year about 150,000 babies are born with a birth defect. The most common birth defects include spinal bifida, cleft lip and cleft palate, and missing or underdeveloped limbs. Some other, less visible conditions like congenital heart defects, sickle cell anemia, and biochemical birth defects such as down syndrome and phenylketonuria (PKU).
While every mother hopes for a healthy birth and life for their children, these birth defects do not mean failure or damnation on the part of the child or the mother like it once did. Science and medical advancements have come a long way in guaranteeing a much better quality of life for children born with such conditions through treatment and preventive measures.
That being said, there are a few things expectant mothers can do to decrease their impact on their child’s health; perhaps the most important of which is quitting drugs and alcohol.
I have noted repeatedly that giving up one’s vices is much easier said than done- and I still stand by that. Severing one’s ties to addiction and substance abuse is more than simply stopping the use of drugs or alcohol. It is a physical, mental, and spiritual journey of redemption and revival, and sometimes, yes, unfortunately it doesn’t happen soon enough. Though the threat of death is ever present when one uses illicit substances, the damage you’re doing may not be limited to your body if you are carrying a child.
While there was some debate last year about the alcohol consumption of expectant mothers and rather being told to abstain infringed on the woman’s rights, science and medical studies stand firm in their assertions that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy. The Center for Disease Control reports that rate of children born with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder ranges between 0.2 to 1.5 children in every thousand born in the United States, with some areas of the country showing rates of 6 to 9 children in every 1,000.
The range of effects drinking has on children ranges, too. Many experience developmental delays, behavioral issues, and mental disorders later in life which can be traced back to alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Women who drink or use drugs heavily during pregnancy (heavy drinking being defined as five or more drinks in one occasion, or drinking five or more days in a 30 day period) have a greater risk of premature birth, underweight newborns, and other health risks as well. In some cases, babies are born exhibiting withdrawal symptoms for which they need to be monitored for an extended period of time. I’ve written about that previously, but it is an important fact to reiterate: everything that the mother consumes during pregnancy is also consumed by the infant.
Unfortunately many women feel trapped by their addiction. Laws which threaten to take their children from their custody and other punishments lead women to hide their substance abuse from doctors, further endangering their unborn child. While there have been pushes for legal protection for pregnant women and new mothers attempting to get help for their substance abuse disorders, the majority of the country still seeks to penalize and shame these women. Until we instate such laws which focus on the well-being of both the mother and the child, the rate of birth defects caused by addiction will never go away.
Did you know January was National Birth Defects Prevention Month? What actions should we take to lower the rate of birth defects caused by substance abuse? Comment below with your opinion!
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