A developing fetus receives nutrients and oxygen through the mother’s placenta (via the umbilical cord). Everything a pregnant woman eats, drinks, inhales, sniffs or injects passes to the unborn baby through the placenta.
The developing baby’s system breaks down alcohol much more slowly than the mother’s. This makes the baby’s alcohol level higher and the effects last longer.
What does alcohol do to an unborn baby?
Alcohol is a teratogen – a poison that interferes with the normal growth and development of the unborn baby’s cells. In particular, it impacts brain cells, changing their typical structure and impairing their function. This damage is permanent and it can result in lifelong disabilities including learning difficulties, behaviour challenges and in some cases, physical defects.
The brain and nervous system develop throughout the entire pregnancy, so injury to neurological functions can occur over the entire nine months.
Many factors influence the amount of injury resulting from prenatal exposure to alcohol, including the amount of alcohol consumed, how often it is consumed, the timing of consumption, the general health of the mother, stress levels, exposure to other substances and genetic makeup.