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Letters from alums about Alcohol and pregnancy

April 20, 2004

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a constellation of signs and symptoms found in infants born to women who drank heavily during pregnancy. The syndrome has also been known to occur in approximately 30-40 percent of newborns whose mothers consumed about 2 ounces of alcohol per day. Clinical manifestations of this syndrome include mental retardation, abnormal facial characteristics, as well as kidney and heart abnormalities.

For Ms. Armstrong to even suggest that any alcohol consumption by pregnant women may be all right and that alcohol may have no effect on the unborn infant is to totally disregard the maternal-fetal circulation via the placenta. Unfortunately, as childbearers, women have to bear the burden of abstinence for the well-being of their fetus. If they do not, they risk the possibility of having a child with an array of congenital abnormalities, which themselves carry their own social stigmata.

As a pediatrician, I have seen all too often the devastating consequences of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. I suggest that Ms. Armstrong visit a neonatal intensive care unit to see that the reality of fetal alcohol syndrome and that alcohol consumption during pregnancy should be avoided at all costs. I wonder if Ms. Armstrong were ever to get pregnancy, would she drink?

Barbara Bowers Tautkus ’79
York, Pa.

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April 6, 2004

I was appalled by the position of Elizabeth M. Armstrong with regards to warnings on alcohol use by pregnant mothers (Notebook, April 7).

She argues that absent of concrete empirical evidence (though I suspect the evidence is stronger then she credits it to be) linking casual alcohol use to fetal abnormalities, women shouldn't jump to conclusions about its possible dangers.

This appalling disregard of risk promotes an abhorrent indifference in weak willed expectant mothers who might feel encouraged to satisfy their whims based on Ms. Armstrong's tenuous authority. Engaging in any feckless activity that appears likely to be to the detriment of one's unborn child is an abominable conceit, and her implication that the link between alcohol and fetal abnormalities might arise only above some unknowable threshold is unlikely and reckless.

By the article's end, i wasn't surprised to see her rate "problems with the mother's health" and "difficulty in operating heavy machinery" as more important than "not drinking during pregnancy."

Her conclusion that it is society's responsibility to consider why some women engage in alcohol during pregnancy only shows her contempt for women as being unable to assert such responsibility for their own actions. Why bother to protect a fetus when it impertinently interferes with a mother's inalienable right to down a couple of glasses of wine, and why rank the brain damage and retarded development of an innocent newborn on the same level as the possible long-term health effects of an irresponsible drinker?

Avoiding alcohol during pregnancy isn't a gender issue, it's an issue of health and responsibility; if a mother isn't ready to forego her consumption of alcohol during pregnancy AND breast feeding she should strongly reconsider whether she is worthy of having a child at all.

Josh Stampfli '92
Scarsdale, N.Y.

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