From The Guardian:

Britain’s top children‘s doctor has said that more than 10,000 babies each year suffer serious harm, including death, because their mothers drank alcohol, smoked, over-ate, or took drugs during pregnancy.

Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said newborns are suffering permanent harm including brain damage, disability or physical deformity. Others die because of miscarriage or stillbirth caused by their mother’s smoking.

What he called “avoidable [and] self-inflicted” harm to unborn children represented a major public health problem, an ongoing human tragedy and a high cost to the NHS, he said.

“There’s going to be tens of thousands of babies being harmed from the effects of women smoking or drinking in pregnancy and if we’re talking permanent damage it’s going to be over 10,000”, said Stephenson, who is also an expert at the Institute of Child Health in London.

He said that an estimated 6,000 of the UK’s 800,000 babies a year are born with some form of fetal alcohol spectrum, which can cause brain damage, physical problems and learning disabilities. The fact that 18% of expectant mothers binge drink by consuming six units or more in a single session at least once while pregnant was very worrying, Stephenson said.

One third of women smoke in pregnancy, which increases the risk of miscarriage, complications in pregnancy such as bleeding or a detached placenta, birth defects and cot death. Babies born to mothers who smoke in pregnancy are also a third more likely to be stillborn or die within a week of birth, research shows. Some 17,000 babies a year receive hospital treatment because of passive smoking.

“These are difficult things to give up, and we still see worryingly large numbers of women in pregnancy exposing their children to harmful substances. Some are choosing to indulge in these behaviours – recreational drugs, alcohol and smoking – that are not essential things for life”, he added.

“We’re a developed country. We’ve got rid of polio and diphtheria – big childhood killers. [Yet] these are avoidable causes of child harm and death and we as paediatricians would like not to see them at all. You can choose not to smoke, not to drink.

“So it’s not an act of God. It’s harm that’s being caused by the actions of parents. You choose to have a pregnancy. It’s a normal biological process. The general outcome is health. Why would you want to risk that with something that’s in your gift?”

Stephenson’s comments follow a growing body of medical evidence blaming smoking and drinking in mothers-to-be for harming their babies’ health.

Smoking in pregnancy was this summer linked by researchers led by scientists from University College London to birth defects in babies such as missing or deformed limbs, facial disorders, club foot and gastrointestinal conditions. An American study this year found that teenagers are much more likely to be unruly, aggressive and badly behaved if their mothers drank early in their pregnancy.


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