Pregnancy Planning (cont.)

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How does alcohol affect pregnancy?

Alcohol has been implicated in infertility, early miscarriage, as well as in birth defects. The amount of alcohol consumption necessary to cause these problems is not known, and varies among women. Some women can drink excessively and have normal infants. Others consume considerably less alcohol but still give birth to babies with cognitive disabilities and/or other birth defects. It is generally believed that the greater the amount of alcohol consumed during pregnancy, the greater the risk of pregnancy-related problems and birth defects.

It is recommended that pregnant women avoid all consumption of alcohol. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are a group of conditions reflecting the possible effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol. The FASDs include fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD), and alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disabilities (ARND). Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the extreme end of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and is a leading cause of cognitive disabilities.

How do high blood pressure and diabetes affect pregnancy?

Elevated blood pressure (hypertension) that is present before pregnancy can interfere with growth of the fetus and increase the risk of fetal death. Therefore, controlling blood pressure with carefully chosen blood pressure medications is important during pregnancy and before conception.

In addition, underlying hypertension can increase the risk for a condition called preeclampsia, a potentially very dangerous complication of pregnancy. It is sometimes difficult for doctors to distinguish between high blood pressure alone and high blood pressure occurring from preeclampsia. For those reasons, and given the risk of birth defects from many of the blood pressure medications, women with high blood pressure who become pregnant should be followed very carefully by a medical expert who is familiar with this type of situation. Ideally, medication would be switched to a relatively safe medication before the woman even becomes pregnant.

Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels during early pregnancy can lead to miscarriages and birth defects. Therefore, controlling diabetes is important for a good pregnancy outcome, and the blood sugar should ideally be controlled before becoming pregnant. It is important to consider that control of blood sugar during pregnancy is important, but control prior to pregnancy may be just as important.

Oral diabetes medications may be dangerous to the fetus, but insulin is not dangerous to the fetus. Insulin is the key treatment for diabetes during pregnancy. Not only is insulin safe to the baby and mother, but it also helps prevent the complications that the baby could have suffered from the mother's sugar being uncontrolled. Insulin is usually substituted for pills as soon as a woman with diabetes is considering pregnancy. The ideal time to control blood sugar is before pregnancy, because control of sugar levels even in early pregnancy (when the mother does not yet know she is pregnant) is important for the developing baby's health.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/9/2014

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