Alchohol in pregnancy dims your child's beauty and health

Pregnant woman
Pregnant woman

There are three main ways in which fish is presented as food. If you have grown up in a middle class, western oriented urban environment then you will be familiar with fish fingers; where fish fillet is either minced or cut to a certain shape, coated in bread crumbs and then fried.

With fish fingers it is difficult to tell what type of fish you are eating but there is more certainty if you are presented with fish fillet. It could still be coated with breadcrumbs or flour but at least it is possible to tell what type of fish it is.

A third way in which fish can be presented is where the head and/or tail is present. Not only is it easy to confirm that you are eating what type of fish, but there are those who swear that the best bits of the fish are hidden in all kinds of nooks and crannies especially around the head.

Knife and fork will not do justice nor is it a fast food. By the time the meal is finished there should be a pile of clean bones neatly stacked to one side and a satisfied look on the guest’s face. A compliment from the host on the efficiency of eating, crowns off a good meal. One thing that even the most efficient lover of fish does not eat, is what you the casual observer might call the lips of the fish, but is actually the mouth because fish do not have lips.

This lack of lips in the fish should not surprise you, if you think a little about what you use your lips for. We think of ourselves as being superior animals to fish and perhaps this is one reason why. Both fish and human beings, mammals in general, are vertebrates; and so they share a similar path developmentally. During pregnancy it is hard to tell the difference between a human embryo and any vertebrate until about 10 weeks, they look like some tadpole/fish.

The human embryo face starts developing from about four weeks to about ten weeks. Initially your eyes start out on the side of the face, just like a fish, rotating over time to end up in the front of the face. Part of the reason for this is that the human face is formed from three main sections, which have to fuse together. The nostrils and the middle part of your lip come down from the top of your head while the top lip along with the jaw and palate started life as gill-like structures on your neck.

The fusion is precise, where even an hour of mistiming during pregnancy can lead to non-fusion or cleft lip. Where everything works well what remains is the midline groove, which runs from the bottom of your nose to just above your upper lip, your philtrum.

In some cultures the length of your philtrum is a sign of beauty. Having one that is long means that your lips are thin and in such cultures having ‘full lips’ is a good thing. Taken to extremes some people undergo surgery to pump up their lips to make them fuller. A less drastic but still expensive route is to apply lipstick; certain colours make lips appear larger than they really are.

The application of lipstick especially among young females is a sign that we are a middle-income country. But it might be hiding a public health problem. Recent public attention has focused on young men and alcohol consumption. The assumption made is that it is a problem of just men but not women. While the consequences of excess alcohol consumption are grave for men, in women of reproductive age the consequences can transcend into the next generation.

When a pregnant woman takes alcohol, it passes rapidly through the placenta to the foetus. Within no time the blood levels of the mother and the foetus are the same. Of concern is that there is no established relationship between the amount of alcohol consumed by the mother and effects eventually shown by the baby. In severe cases foetal alcohol syndrome develops where the baby is born with low birth weight, small head circumference; central nervous system abnormalities including lower IQ and; facial abnormalities. Characteristics of a newborn with foetal alcohol syndrome are a small head, with a long smooth philtrum, thin upper lip and eyes that do not open wide.

Alcohol consumption in the first trimester is possibly the worst as it is associated with miscarriages and birth defects, but even in the third trimester there can still be long-term damage.

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption for a pregnant woman. So in our efforts to manage alcohol consumption in a population with an average age of 19 years, we have to remember that rising alcohol consumption is also a function of rising income. But so is lipstick use. So rather than focusing on the lips alone, have a look the philtrum. It might tell you a lot more.