Consumption of Alcohol/Tobacco products/Caffeine/Illicit drugs and its Effect on Fetal Growth and Development

Posted by Vaishnavi C on

By Akshata Kamath 

It is believed from times immemorial that use of substances like alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, illicit drugs during pregnancy is detrimental to both the mother and the foetus. The prevalence of consumption of these substances has drastically come down in the past few decades with all the awareness that has been created around. A lot of studies are done to understand the cause and the effect relationship with maternal substance use and foetal outcome.

Smoking- The most accordant observation seen with respect to use of tobacco during pregnancy is reduction in the birth weight of the infants followed by growth retardation. Other lethal effects are preterm delivery of the infants, spontaneous abortions in mothers, early neonatal death. Additionally, mothers who smoke during pregnancy may give birth to children who might develop low cognitive ability, low IQ during their potential growth spurts. Nutrition related side effects are depletion of Vitamin B12, C, folate, zinc, cadmium, amino acid, iron  in smoking pregnant mothers. Pregnant women seem to have less calories available in the body, There are certain theories associated with this which says smoking hinders the placental blood flow and thereby could restrict the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the foetus.

Alcohol consumption- Exposure of the foetus to alcohol can lead to a syndrome called Foetal alcohol syndrome which leads to growth retardation, facial abnormalities, and mental deficiency. Spontaneous abortions, cardiac abnormalities can be seen in addition. Alcohol may also affect the fetus indirectly through its negative impact on maternal nutrition as ethanol is high in calories. chronic alcoholics may have a relatively low intake of proteins, essential fats, vitamins, and minerals causing nutrition related side effects in the foetus. Impaired metabolism, nutrient absorption and utilization are commonly noticed due to deficiency of nutrients like amino acids, zinc, vitamin A.

Caffeine- Consumption of caffeine generally found in coffee, tea and cocoa products  has been associated with birth of low weight infants, spontaneous abortions during second trimester and preterm deliveries in mothers. Caffeine in general hinders the intake of calories, protein, calcium, vitamin A, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin C in the body. Studies has reported that consumption of more than 3 cups of coffee in a day during pregnancy has brought about a depletion of iron stores and hemoglobin in the mother as well as infant.

Drugs- Use of illicit drugs like marijuana may impair the oxygen uptake by the fetus during pregnancy and hamper fetal growth. Intake of drugs brings about an increase in heart rate and blood pressure due to which there may be less placental blood flow.  Adverse effects reported due to intake of drugs during pregnancy are decreased birth weight, body length, increased frequency of preterm delivery, shortened length of gestation, higher rates of precipitate labor and meconium passage, increased risk of infant features compatible with the fetal alcohol syndrome and altered neurobehavioral responses in neonates. Abuse of drugs like cocaine may bring about  premature labor and intrauterine growth retardation, increase in congenital anomalies.

One should put conscious efforts to stop usage of substances during pregnancy to prevent adverse health effects on mother and fetus. Meeting the additional nutrient requirements itself is a big challenge during pregnancy, using substance further aids towards developing nutritional deficiencies due to hindrance in nutrient uptake.


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