New study sheds light on dangers of drinking while pregnant

New study sheds light on dangers of drinking while pregnant

You may have heard it is not a huge deal for a pregnant woman to have a glass of wine every now and then, but new research has local doctors concerned.

One study found as many as one in 20 first graders may have been severely affected because their mothers drank alcohol while pregnant.

BOSTON — Boston 25 News anchor Heather Hegedus sat down with Sasha, a 26-year-old man from Amherst, MA, who asked that we not use his last name.

Sasha was adopted from Kazakhstan as a child and said he always felt different from the other kids.

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"The struggles I could do without sometimes," Sasha said.

Sasha's mother said early on, teachers noticed signs of learning disabilities and behavioral problems and said he was a class clown and disruptive in class.

Sasha was later diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders or FASD, a set of disorders caused by mothers consuming alcohol while pregnant.

It can cause facial and growth abnormalities, behavioral and cognitive deficits and can often come with other learning disabilities.

A large number of children adopted from Russia have the disorder, but now, new research shows how common it is in the U.S. too.

"You know five or ten years ago I think it was much more common to hear physicians giving their patients that advice 'don't worry about a glass of wine here or there,' " said Sasha's mother, Elaine Elias.

A recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association surveyed more than 13,000 first graders in the U.S. over a 6-year period.

It found FASD may affect as many as one in 20 children.

But experts say FASD is often not diagnosed, in part because some mothers don't tell doctors they drank alcohol.

Dr. Nicole Smith, a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital said society and social media may be contributing to the perpetuation of a bad myth that it's ok to drink a little while pregnant.

"I always worry that we are not doing enough to educate women," said Dr. Smith. "So we're allowing some of those rumors to persist where we should have been able to roll that back years ago. We've known for a long time that alcohol is not recommended during pregnancy."

Enid Watson is the state FASD coordinator. She also says there should also  more education for medical professionals about how to spot the signs of FASD.

"It's not a diagnosis that a pediatrician is really equipped to make," Watson said. "It's a diagnosis that needs more specialists. People might say they have ADHD or they have oppositional behavior or they have anxiety."

Researchers at the University of North Carolina are studying the effects on a fetus and potential treatments. They found a mother's alcohol use reduces the placenta's ability to deliver nutrients to her baby.

"So in other words, the baby is basically starving," explained Cecilia Kwan, a researcher at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute.

Now researchers are looking at ways to better identify the disorder and ways to potentially even reverse its effects.

"An iron supplemented diet, it can basically reverse some of the iron deficiency," said Kaylee Hefrick also of the UNC Nutrition Research Institute.

As for Sasha, his message to mothers is no glass of wine or drink is worth the risk.

"It's not a life for a kid to grow up in," said Sasha.

Legislation just filed in January on Beacon Hill by Senator Joan Lovely and Representative James O'Day would designate FASD as a "Developmental Disability," to give patients eligibility for state-funded services like respite care.

Currently, FASD is not considered a developmental disability under state law.