DEAR HARRIETTE: I just read your answer to "Puzzled Waiter" in the Chicago Tribune, and I feel I need to respond. When you wrote that "many health professionals suggest that moderate alcohol consumption later in a pregnancy could be safe," I could not believe what I was reading. This type of thinking needs to change. There is no amount of drinking by a pregnant woman that would be considered safe for her developing baby.
Alcohol consumption by a pregnant woman during any part of her pregnancy puts the child at a very real risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Because, as you say, "every woman's body reacts differently to alcohol," it is NEVER OK for the pregnant woman to drink during her pregnancy. Any amount of alcohol that the woman consumes will get into the brain of the developing fetus and will cause lifelong deficits. The extent of those deficits is what makes FASD a very pervasive and life-altering disorder. FASD is also the most preventable disorder -- by simply not drinking during the pregnancy.
Some children born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are diagnosed with autism, Asperger's syndrome or attention deficit disorder, or have mental retardation so severe they will never be able to live normal lives. They may not be able to live independently as adults. FASD encompasses all of these disorders and can be mistaken for any one of them. FASD is more far-reaching, invasive and debilitating than any of these other disorders.
Some of the "milder" deficits of FASD are almost always some type of math or reading disability. Some other effects are short-term memory problems, inadequate social skills, below-average intelligence or other cognitive learning disabilities, and very rigid or "black and white" thinking.
A fetal-alcohol-affected brain will be smaller than a normal brain. As an example, look at two different pieces of Swiss cheese, and imagine the holes in each of those pieces of cheese to be the areas of a person's brain that were affected by the mother's drinking during pregnancy. Each of those holes is a deficit in thinking, reasoning and functioning, and the extent of the deficit is determined by when and how much drinking happened during the pregnancy.
You are correct when you said (and I am paraphrasing), "It is not wise for this woman to drink while pregnant." We, as responsible human beings, have a fundamental duty to act in good conscience by suggesting to someone who is willing to drink while pregnant that she not take that drink for the health of the developing baby. I believe "Puzzled Waiter" had a duty to tell this patron not to drink since she was obviously pregnant.
Doctors, other health professionals and anyone who works with or serves the needs of pregnant women need to educate and inform women about the very real effects of drinking during pregnancy. With knowledge comes empowerment and action. -- Adoptive Mother of a Fetal-Alcohol-Affected Child, Lombard, Ill.
DEAR ADOPTIVE MOTHER: Thank you for your detailed response. I trust that your passion and knowledge may save a life.