It is common knowledge that there are numerous internal and external factors, which can influence in a negative way development of a fetus. Although it may seem that the future child is well protected, it is not exactly so. The fetus of the pregnant woman can be easily damaged by a variety of teratogenic agents, environment and the surrounding of the future mother.
One of the most urgent questions of our time is reaction of the fetus on maternal cigarette and alcohol exposure. Today a lot of prominent researchers all over the world are examining negative influence of cigarette and alcohol abuse on the development of the fetus. Although both substances are dangerous for the fetus and health of the future child, it is not yet clear which substance is the most harmful.
The purpose of the study
The purpose of this work is to study effects of cigarette smoke and alcohol on the fetus of a pregnant woman. In terms of our research we will answer the following questions:
- What is the damage for the fetus of pregnant woman who smokes cigarettes?
- What is done for the fetus of pregnant woman who is drinking alcohol?
We will use a complex approach and analyze negative influence of alcohol and cigarettes both on physical and mental health of the future babies. We will make an attempt to analyze the most interesting and informative studies of this area in order to understand which substance is more dangerous for the fetus of a pregnant woman.
The scope of the study
This study includes pregnant women who drink alcohol and smoke. Understanding physical and mental health conditions of babies will help the researchers to know the bad effects of smoking and drinking. Our study will help to understand the problems of pregnant women, who are associated with prenatal alcohol and cigarette exposure. It is important to note that the study takes into account a wide range of problems of pregnant women while they drink and smoke.
Smoking during pregnancy
Smoking has many negative effects on the development of the fetus. Numerous contemporary researchers, including Krisa Van Meurs, are sure that “the effects of cigarettes on the pregnant woman and developing fetus are numerous with a wide range of sequela will remain with the fetus for the rest of her life” (Meurs 14). Such assumptions are well grounded as far as cigarette smoke contains at least two harmful components, nicotine and carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is dangerous for the fetus, because it leads to a decrease of oxygen, which is delivered to the fetus. Nicotine is well known for its negative effects on central nervous system. Moreover, nicotine may damage cardiovascular system as well.
Among the other health problems, researchers mention fertility and placental problems. In addition, smoking may cause spontaneous abortion, perinatal mortality, cancer, congenital malformations, lead to problems with birth weight and affect intellectual functions of a future child (Meurs). Similar conclusions were made by other researchers, who found the presence of carboxyhaemoglobin in babies’ cord blood.
An interesting study about negative effects of smoking was conducted by researchers from Welsh National School of Medicine. The results of their study were presented in the article “Effects of maternal smoking on fetal growth and nutrition.” Bosley, Sibert and Newcombe made a start of their research from previous studies, which proved that maternal smoking is inevitably connected with changes of birth weight. The value of their research lies in the fact that they analyzed “relationship between skinfold thickness in mothers and anthropometric measurements in their babies related to smoking” (Bosley, Sibert, and Newcombe 727). Such study allowed the researchers not only to confirm negative effects of smoking on development of the fetus, but to point on correlation between skinfold measurement both of a child and his mother.
Today numerous reports confirm that smoking has a lot of long lasting effects, which affect not only developing fetus, but infants as well. Among the most widespread effects, it is crucial to name aberration of cognitive abilities and such outcome measures as language and vocabulary problems.
When discussing prenatal smoking exposure, it is necessary to say that analysis of infant’s cry is a promising field of research. There are evidences that acoustic characteristics of infant’s cry can help in studying relationship between infant’s cry peculiarities and smoking during pregnancy.
With the help of acoustic characteristics of infant’s cry, O. Mahony confirmed that it is not necessary for a pregnant woman to be a heavy smoker in order to affect health of her future child in a negative way. In the conducted research it was found out that high pitch of an infant’s cry can be associated with the increase of tobacco usage (Nugent). In addition, the results of the study proved that consumption of cigarettes may cause numerous problems with the nervous system of a newborn child.
Recent studies suggest that in addition to physical problems, prenatal smoking may lead to a variety of psychological disturbances. Thus, in the course of various studies, Finnish researchers came to the conclusion that smoking can cause psychiatric problems. Thus, for instance, adults, whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, are more likely to face a risk of psychotropic drug abuse. In addition the researchers are convinced that “the rate of psychotropic medication use was highest in young adults whose mothers smoked more than ten cigarettes a day while pregnant” (American Academy of Pediatrics).
When studying negative effects of smoking, it is also crucial to take into consideration such factors as ethnicity and the surrounding of a pregnant woman. Thus, for instance, in the course of several researches it was found out that the majority of smoking women are Caucasian. Apart from this, results of these studies allow saying that smoking women are often not married, do not have higher education and as a rule have low income.
Another vital peculiarity of smoking lies in the fact that the majority of women do not quit smoking during pregnancy and continue smoking after it. Thus, they make a lot of harm not only to the fetus, but to the born child as well.
Prenatal alcohol exposure
Alcohol also refers to one of the most dangerous and harmful teratogenic agents. It is remarkable that the majority of researchers suggest that effects of alcohol can be more dangerous if compared to usage of heroin and cocaine. Thus, in the report of Institute of Medicine in 1996 researchers expressed their concern with the fact that “alcohol produces by far the most serious neurobehavioral effects in the fetus, resulting in permanent disorders of memory function, impulse control and judgment” (qtd. in Baldwin 15).
Numerous researches prove that prenatal alcohol exposure can damage the future baby. The first studies of prenatal alcohol exposure were conducted in 1960s. In a result of such studies it was found out that alcohol can be extremely dangerous for the fetus. Since that time new researches have constantly proved and warned future mothers about the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy.
Unfortunately, despite such frightening facts, more than 20% of women continue drinking alcohol while being pregnant. Although each year more and more reports about danger of alcohol are released, the number of women, who drink alcohol during pregnancy, does not decline.
It is crucial for women to understand that their addiction to alcohol can have rather grievous consequences, because each time a woman drinks spirituous liquor, her future child also receives a dose of alcohol. Such process takes place, because the placenta cannot totally protect the fetus from ethanol. It is remarkable that the level of alcohol in child’s blood can exceed the amount of alcohol in mother’s blood. An effect of alcohol can be compared with carbon monoxide. Thus, both of these substances can easily pass through mother’s blood to the fetus and harm the future baby in various ways.
Thus, for instance, alcohol can easily lead to a variety of abnormalities related to development of the fetus. It is vital to remember that alcohol is one of the most widespread causes of a variety of birth defects. Apart from this, it can lead to many long term consequences, which may affect both physical and psychological health of children. The results of prenatal alcohol use may vary from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to numerous problems with cognitive and linguistic skills of children.
As far as development of a fetus is a successive process and has multiple stages, alcohol exposure may have various effects during different stages of the fetus growth. That is why, when speaking about prenatal alcohol exposure, it is important to take into consideration various factors, including type of alcohol, its dose and timing.
Alcohol is especially dangerous during the first months of pregnancy. Thus, it is proved that the majority of morphologic deflections are caused by alcohol exposure during the early stages of pregnancy. At the time, when the body of the future baby is beginning to develop, ethanol may interfere in the process and disrupt it. In a result of such interruption, we may observe a variety of “structural deviations in the brain development” (Baldwin 11). Apart from this, alcohol can easily disturb neurochemical balance, brain electrophysiology and lead to problems with brain’s message transmission system.
Late alcohol exposure is usually associated with negative effects on growth of the fetus. Central nervous system can be endangered during various periods of pregnancy. Interestingly enough, it is possible to notice health differences in children, who were exposed to alcohol during the whole pregnancy and its particular stages.
When speaking about consequences of alcohol exposure, it is also recommended to take into consideration the nature and peculiarities of relationship between prenatal alcohol exposure and its probable outcomes. Depending on the type of relationship, it becomes possible to speak about so called safe and non safe levels of alcohol use.
Today quite often we may hear about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Despite this fact, the majority of women, who drink alcohol while being pregnant, do not know anything about this phenomenon. However, everyone should know that in our days Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is one of the most widespread reasons of mental retardation.
Children born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome usually demonstrate a wide range of health abnormalities, including growth problems, mental retardation and problems with behavior. There are many long term affects of prenatal alcohol exposure, which become evident in adulthood. For instance, many adults with FAS cannot live independently. They face numerous problems with attention, coordination and experience social withdrawal. It is also possible to observe growth and CNC deficits in children with FAS.
Interestingly enough, drinking alcohol during gestation period does not necessarily lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. However, alcohol exposure leaves a mark on health of the future child and may damage one or several systems.
It is remarkable that when speaking about prenatal alcohol exposure, it is important to take into account a variety of external factors. Latest studies show that there is a clear correlation between disadvantaged environment and drinking alcohol. Together such factors can lead to more considerable negative effects. Today many researchers make everything possible in order to understand the general picture of alcohol exposure and its relations with environmental factors.
Having analyzed peculiarities of alcohol and tobacco exposure during pregnancy, it is now possible to compare negative effects of both habits and decide which of them is more dangerous for the fetus of a pregnant woman.
First of all, it should be said that such negative habits as smoking and drinking alcohol always lead to health problems. However, when speaking about prenatal smoking and alcohol exposure, it is vital to say that the consequences can be even worse. This can be explained by the fact that these substances affect not only health state of smokers and alcohol abusers, but damage health of the fetus as well.
Numerous studies conducted by researchers all over the world prove that use of alcohol and tobacco is always associated with a wide range of adverse effects on health of children, their cognitive development and behavioral patterns.
In the majority of cases tobacco exposure is associated with growth problems, including height and weight deficits. Moreover, cognitive deficits, poor performance at school, problems with language and memory skills are also associated with tobacco use. It is reported that children, who were exposed to prenatal smoking, have a number of behavioral problems. Negative long-term effects of prenatal smoking exposure on child’s physical health include such problems as asthma and a wide range of respiratory diseases. Finally, there are also evidences that tobacco use during pregnancy may cause sudden infant death syndrome.
Alcohol abuse during pregnancy has also a lot of negative consequences on the development of the fetus, because alcohol can easily pass through the placenta. Results, which were achieved in the course of numerous studies, allow saying that alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has a lot of severe consequences for the health of a mother and the future child. It can cause spontaneous abortion, miscarriage or even premature delivery.
It is suggested that alcohol can easily set in motion numerous process, which disrupt development of the fetus and can cause various defects in almost each part of the baby’s body. Such defects are easily reflected in baby’s facial features, physiological abnormalities, developmental delays and even invisible neurological damages. It should be remembered that apart from physical damages, drinking alcohol during pregnancy may also lead to problems with social behavior and cognitive function.
It is also worth saying that apart from health damage to children, alcohol can easily block those hormones, which are responsible for lactation and therefore affect mother’s ability to produce healthy breast milk.
The mentioned above effects of alcohol and cigarette smoke allow saying that alcohol has more harmful consequences if compared to smoking. That is why alcohol exposure is always associated with more serious health damages of the fetus. Maternal alcohol abuse is always negative for the baby and its effects can be seen in child’s appearance, physical and psychological health.
While speaking about negative effects of smoking and alcohol consumption, it is crucial to remember that often pregnant women have both addictions. That is why there are some difficulties in separating negative effects of alcohol and tobacco. However, results of many studies show that cigarettes are less dangerous that alcohol.
Finally, it should be said that even the smallest dose of alcohol and tobacco can be dangerous and affect in a negative way an unborn child. As far as nowadays researchers cannot single out the minimum permitted dose of alcohol and tobacco, it is necessary for pregnant women to avoid both alcohol and cigarette consumption.
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