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HOUSTON Women who smoke or drink while pregnant might want to consider what Houston mother Yolanda Ross can tell them about her daughter.

When I saw her, I knew something was wrong, said Ross about getting her first look at her newborn.

As her baby daughter grew, she showed signs of impaired mental development, commonly called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Her doctors said it very likely could be linked to Ross s drinking and possibly her drug use.

I was in denial because I didn t drink every day, Ross said of how she rationalized her binge drinking.

Ross and another Houston mother, Mercedes Alejandro, are both featured in a video shot in Houston that s now being distributed across Texas.

Its most unforgettable moment comes from Alejandro s son, now a young adult.

I would say please don t drink when you re pregnant, said Nicolas Alejandro in the video, adding in a stuttering voice: The... the... the... effects are irreversible.

He also suffered diminished mental development linked to alcohol.

In the video, his mother explains she didn t know she was pregnant when she was drinking socially on the weekends.

I would have stopped drinking right away, she said.

The two mothers told 11 News why they volunteered to do the video.

For me it was important because women don t know, there s so much shame associated with this, said Mercedes Alejandro.

Asked if the video will help, Ross said, Lord yes!

The Texas Health Department produced the Don t Drink for Two video to raise awareness especially among women on public assistance. The state is giving DVD copies to women who visit WIC offices (Women, Infants and Children program).

Birth defects from drinking and from smoking while pregnant are among the most preventable, yet they are among the most devastating and costly.

In an ongoing State of Texas study of Houston women of child-bearing age, 13 percent were found to be at risk of having babies with defects linked to drinking and smoking.

Local and state governments care about this, and not just as a health issue, but as a cost issue. Women with complicated pregnancies and children with birth defects cost public health and later public schools millions in extra expenses.

But it s one thing to tell to women to stop, quite another for some to do it.

Now once you become a nicotine addict or an alcoholic. It s a whole different story, said Mahmoud Ahmed, a researcher with the Department of Obstetrics at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

He says addicted smokers are particularly hard cases. By one estimate cited by the Texas Department of Health Services, only 20 percent of them manage to quit during their pregnancies.

That s when medications are needed, said Ahmed.

But aren t pregnant women advised not to take many prescription drugs?

Exactly, but then it s benefits versus risk, said Ahmed.

Drugs like Zyban that help people stop smoking are not prescribed to pregnant women because it s not known if they might harm the fetus. Another researcher at UTMB, Tatiana Nanovskyaya, is trying to find out if they do.

You can predict what adverse effect it can cause, said Nanovskyaya.

How?

At a laboratory located down the hall from the delivery room at UTMB s John Sealy Hospital, researchers receive a mother s placenta just moments after birth.

The researchers then attach tubes to the placenta, mimicking the flow of blood, and inject the drugs to see how much passes through the placenta, which provides food and oxygen to the fetus.

Depending on what they find, doctors might eventually start prescribing the stop-smoking drugs to pregnant women.

But whether it s smoking or drinking or both, the Houston mothers said far more needs to be done in their communities to publicize the danger.

Yolanda Ross said she wished she had known more back when she was pregnant because she said the feelings of guilt can be overwhelming.

I cried, I cried, I cried because I knew that I did this to my baby, said Ross.

Her daughter is in school now but needs lots of special therapy. So does Nicolas Alejandro. Their mothers cannot change the past, but they want others to learn from it.

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