Sunday, September 5, 2010

280 Days

I've been trying to come up with a way to get this point across for twenty years. I can't say this one will work any better, but if one mom gets it, and her baby has a better start, then I've done something, yes?

Let me start by saying that if you're reading this and you know or suspect you have an addiction, you need help, preferably before getting pregnant. AA, and many other recovery programs do work, if you do the work, and your life will be a whole different experience without addiction controling it. If you are pregnant, and that statement applies, inform your care provider immediately. Any intervention is better than none at all.

The other thing is this. I'm not getting into the scientific evidence -prolific that it is- of what alcohol or drugs, or even diet soda can do to your pregnancy, so don't expect me to list footnotes. I could, and do, sometimes, with individual patients, but I've seen absolutely NO positive results from this approach. So, here's my new tactic for getting this very important and life-changing (sometimes saving) point across.

280 days.

From conception to birth, 280 days.

Now, if you want to be really on task, you could be taking vitamins and exercising well before conception, but that's not a world most of my patients live in, so we'll keep it simple.

280 days.

We can't control destiny, or basic genetic contributions. We can't control all sorts of other things that can go right or wrong during a pregnancy. This is a given. And, yes, the line of what is, and is not in our control is changing with IVF pre-screening and genome charting, reproductive surgeries, hormone interventions, etc., but all that's an aside.

Women, you have 280 days in which you lend your body to another human being so that it can be created, grown and birthed into this world. How much of that time will you waste?

For this example, I'm going to use alcohol. You can substitute anything you want, but the formula holds the same.

Consider the last time you drank. How much time did you stay buzzed? (Relaxed, trashed, or passed out could be other words for 'buzzed'. I'll leave that to you.) Consider that alcohol passes through the placenta, so a hypothetical baby would have been drinking with you. How much time was your hypo-baby impaired?

People can tell you exactly how they felt when they got drunk. The police and MADD can demonstrate the level of impairment at different stages of drunk. Physicians can tell you how the alcohol chemically affects neurotransmitter function, cholesterol synthesis and cell replication, among the total picture of intoxication. It's not a pretty scenario.

Babies don't have a fully developed body to process all this raw toxicity. Their response is that they simply can't do the task set for the period of time that alcohol is affecting them in the way it needs to be done, or at all, depending on the fetal age, and amount of toxin. An adult can 'sleep off' a night of drinking, but a fetus doesn't have that option. They lose womb time. Some part of their development doesn't happen, and there is no make-up. We know so much about fetal development that we can match up what hypo-baby was doing at the time the drinking happened.

The levels or kind of impairment are defined by amount of alcohol and fetal age. Let me assure you, there is NO SAFE LEVEL of fetal alcohol exposure, just as there is no level of alcohol that has no effect on you. You may not feel it, or sense the real impact of it, but you are affected by the drinking you do. So is your baby.

So, I ask you. What part of your baby's life do you want to limit? Brain development? Intestinal function? Reproduction? Intelligence? Drinking at a given time during pregnancy will do any or all of these things. What mother wants this for her child? If given a choice, would you check off an item from a list of lifelong issues that your child could suffer? Would you choose a few hours a week of 'buzz' for your child's ability to do math, pay attention, or digest food? If you drink alcohol during your pregnancy, you are.

280 days. It's all your baby gets. His or her only chance to get their work done to prepare for life on this planet. Is that such a long time to abstain? Absolutely, sober gestation is the BEST gift any mother can give her baby.

With all the other things we ban from our diets while we're pregnant, with all this talk of 'doing our best' for our babies, why are so many women still drinking? Why is the topic even being debated? If we know how alcohol affects us, why can't we see what it's doing to our babies?

So, this is my challenge. You're going to get pregnant? Put your baby first. Not just in words, but in deeds. It's only 280 days. Keep away from drugs and alcohol. Get help if you can't do it on you own, but get sober before you conceive, or as soon as you find out you have. Give your baby a clean start.

I know this is a hot topic. I know I'm going to get a lot of resistance to my ideas. I'm not concerned, and I'm not going to respond to hostility. I have no expectations of acceptance or popularity, either. I simply want to try to find a way to end the suffering we can control. Humanity has too many hurdles. Fetal alcohol and drug exposure is one that, in some cases, can be prevented.

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