Can I Drink Alcohol During Pregnancy?

Stillbirth.This is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Alcohol can cause problems for your baby at any time in pregnancy, even before you know you’re pregnant. You may find it easy to stop drinking while pregnant, especially if you don’t drink much normally, or if you suddenly find alcohol repulsive due to food aversions or morning sickness. But even babies exposed to smaller amounts of alcohol in utero can develop FASD or a number of mental, physical, or behavioral problems. Cleveland Clinic’s Ob/Gyn & Women’s Health Institute is committed to providing world-class care for women of all ages. We offer women’s health services, obstetrics and gynecology throughout Northeast Ohio and beyond.

There were differences observed in brain volume and surface area among the exposed children which contributed to the psychological and behavioural problems. The estimated number of drinks consumed during pregnancy ranged from 0-90 with the average being 27. The majority of drinks were consumed in the first 6-7 weeks prior to pregnancy knowledge. “Our research found that even small amounts of alcohol consumed while pregnant can have a significant impact on a child’s brain development,” said lead author Ms Briana Lees, PhD candidate at the Matilda Centre. Fetal alcohol syndrome is completely preventable in children whose mothers don’t drink during pregnancy.

Mamluk explained to me that the lack of good-quality studies shows how difficult it is to design meaningful research into the effects of alcohol during pregnancy. The team looked at a range of possible complications during pregnancy, including miscarriage, stillbirth, gestational diabetes, and birth defects, as well as signs of FASD after birth. But they only found significant associations with an increased risk of small birth weight and preterm delivery . In the United States, 40 percent of pregnant mothers consume alcohol, of which between 3 and 5 percent report heavy drinking. FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in a developing baby that was prenatally exposed to alcohol. Don’t minimize your alcohol intake or say you’re drinking less than you are. This is especially true if you find it hard to stop or cut back.

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When a soon-to-be parent consumes alcohol during pregnancy, the alcohol passes from the parent’s blood to the fetus through the umbilical cord. Once the alcohol is in the fetus’s bloodstream, it affects every part of the body, including the organs and central nervous system. However, drinking in pregnancy is a decision that every person has to make for themselves, so it’s a good idea to educate yourself about the potential risks and effects of drinking while pregnant. Based on the current medical evidence, there is no way to know where to draw the line between safe and unsafe alcohol use in pregnancy.

Some research has shown that expectant moms who have as little as one drink a week are more likely than nondrinkers to have children who later exhibit aggressive behavior. The symptoms of this condition will be with the person throughout their entire life. Over time, a number of secondary effects can happen in people with FAS, particularly in those who aren’t treated for the condition in childhood. These are called secondary effects because they’re not part of FAS itself. Instead, these secondary effects happen as a result of having FAS.

Risks Of Drinking While Pregnant

This risk aversion is evidenced in the findings presented here in terms of women’s stated concerns about the risks of eating foods that could cause listeria and with imbibing caffeine. In this context, women’s lesser concern about consuming small quantities of alcohol is something of an anomaly. Despite numerous quantitative studies on alcohol consumption, there are surprisingly few qualitative studies that have explored this topic. However, these women also described how “the social expectation of drinking alcohol” in Australian society made it difficult to remain abstinent, particularly before they told others that they were pregnant , p71. The significance of alcohol to women’s identity appeared to be an important reason for continued alcohol use during pregnancy among otherwise risk averse women.

  • If you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant, don’t drink alcohol.
  • Some women may have been reassured by a study that was published in October 2010 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
  • The women’s accounts clearly conveyed that they viewed their obstetricians’ advice as authoritative, and were motivated to comply with their recommendations.
  • Alcohol constricts blood vessels, which slows blood flow to the placenta .
  • But the developing fetus cannot break down alcohol as quickly as a fully grown adult can.

You may have heard that light drinking while pregnant – say, just a glass of wine with dinner – is fine. There has been conflicting information in the media about alcohol and pregnancy, leaving women wondering what’s really safe. More recent research has found different results, including a 2020 review of 23 studies that examined the effects of alcohol intake in pregnancy. Data from these studies revealed an increased incidence of low birth weight and cognitive problems in children born to parents who consumed alcohol in pregnancy.

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However, much of this debate has taken place in philosophical writing and opinion based editorials, without supporting evidence. Despite this lack of evidence, these concerns have been picked up and reported in mainstream media . They note, on their web sites, that pregnant women who drink alcohol risk giving birth to a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder . These conditions range from mild to severe and include speech and language delays, learning disabilities, abnormal facial features, small head size, and many other problems. Dr. Fergus McCarthy and colleagues from Ireland, England, New Zealand, and Australia compared birth outcomes among 5,628 women who were pregnant for the first time between 2004 and 2011. More than half of them reported drinking alcohol during the first three months of pregnancy.

Some have characteristic facial features like a thin upper lip and small eye openings, or the small vertical groove between the upper lip and the nose may be flattened. Other physical signs that go along with fetal alcohol syndrome include a small head, short nose, and problems with the way the heart or the joints are formed. Two studies from 2021 support the idea that alcohol consumption during pregnancy isn’t a good idea – both for the overall outcome of the pregnancy and for fetal neurodevelopment. Researchers who knew nothing about the maternal consumption of alcohol during the pregnancy examined the 5-year-old children of those pregnancies. They performed tests on IQ, attention span, and executive functions such as planning, organization, and self-control. They were unable to tell any difference between children whose mothers drank low to moderate amounts of alcohol and those who abstained completely during pregnancy. Heavy drinkers are at greater risk of giving birth to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Drinking Alcohol Before You Know Youre Pregnant

While this may not be important for mothers who spend most of their time in a single country, it is a nightmare for scientists. It makes it very difficult to compare studies on alcohol consumption conducted in different countries. This disability, FASD, affects all ethnicities and people from all income levels. In fact, a recent Department of Health study tells us that high / at risk drinkers during pregnancy tend to be single, college educated women with incomes above $50,000 annually. FASD is only caused if a woman consumes alcohol while she is pregnant, and FASD is not hereditary. However, a partner can, and should, be supportive of the mom-to-be by encouraging her not to consume alcohol, and by abstaining from alcohol as well during the pregnancy. A baby’s major organs, including the brain, don’t begin to develop until about the fourth week of pregnancy, around the time you would miss your first period.

Minimal alcohol use during the first trimester doesn’t appear to increase the risk for high blood pressure complications, or premature birth or low birth weights. That’s the findings of a study previously published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

alcohol during pregnancy

JL contributed to the conceptualisation of the manuscript, analysis of results and revision of the manuscript. Doctor-approved information to keep you and your family healthy and happy.

Playing It Safe

A recent CDC study found that about one in eight pregnant women in the U.S. report drinking at least one alcoholic beverage in the past month. About 1 in 13 pregnant women in the United States reports alcohol use in the past 30 days. And about 1 in 71 pregnant women in the United States reports binge drinking in the past 30 days .

We know drinking heavily during pregnancy is not safe for the baby. We are less sure about the risks of low to moderate drinking, and until we have better information, it’s understandable that health organizations and providers would advise complete abstinence from alcohol. Some women felt that the CDC was being condescending and interfering in their right to make decisions about how they live their lives. While this would seem to suggest that low-level alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy, there are other factors to consider. First, while the study included 1,600 women, that’s still a relatively small sample size. Second, children’s brains are still developing at age 5, and the full effects that alcohol may have had on them may not yet be measurable. Because we’re just not sure, there has been a push for women to refrain from consuming any alcohol while trying to get pregnant and during pregnancy.

Truly specific research around drinking alcohol in very early pregnancy is pretty tricky. That’s because it would be unethical to put together a study and actually request that any segment of the pregnant population do something known to cause harm even some of the time.

  • Especially if you’ve heard of moms who drank a glass of wine here and there during pregnancy and delivered perfectly healthy babies.
  • Alcohol can cause problems for your baby at any time in pregnancy, even before you know you’re pregnant.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome and other FASDs can be prevented by not drinking any alcohol during pregnancy.
  • Drinking in pregnancy is a fraught issue and causes much anxiety.

Fetal alcohol syndrome happens when a person drinks any alcohol during pregnancy, including wine, beer, hard ciders and “hard liquor”. One reason alcohol is dangerous during pregnancy is that it’s passed through your bloodstream to the fetus through the umbilical cord.

It’s estimated that most people find out they’re pregnant five or six weeks after conception. It’s impossible to instill lifestyle changes and cut down on drinking if you don’t even know you’re pregnant. If you’re pregnant this can be transferred to the placenta and to your baby. The liver is one of the last things to develop and fetuses can’t process alcohol well. Too much exposure can lead to poor growth and learning and behavioral problems. For example, this 2014 study looked at 1,303 pregnant women in the United Kingdom and their alcohol consumption before pregnancy and during all three trimesters. Results suggested that drinking — even fewer than two drinks per week — in the first trimester increased risk of complications, like lower birth weight and pre-term birth.

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Desire to avoid “worry” or “guilt” were given as sufficient reasons to abstain except where their practitioner was deemed to have moderated these emotions by supporting their alcohol consumption. Those who continued to drink alcohol during pregnancy described how they conceived “acceptable” levels of drinking.

Little Evidence That Light Drinking In Pregnancy Is Harmful, Say Experts

Palate and external genitalia can be affected if the mother persists drinking. During the twelfth week, frequent alcohol exposure can negatively impact the brain development which affects cognitive, learning and behavioral skills before birth. Consumption of excessive alcohol can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which can produce irreversible lifetime changes in physical, mental and neurobehavioral development of the fetus. Alcohol during pregnancy not only affects the developing fetus, but it also has adverse health outcomes on the mother as well.

If you are struggling with the disease of alcoholism and are expecting, reach out for help right away. JourneyPure at the River has a treatment program for pregnant women. Do not allow another minute to go by where you could possibly put you or your unborn baby’s lives in harm’s way. The severity of fetal alcohol syndrome symptoms varies, with some children experiencing them to a far greater degree than others. Signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome may include any mix of physical defects, intellectual or cognitive disabilities, and problems functioning and coping with daily life. It’s known that alcohol travels to the fetus through the placenta, but it’s less clear what effect alcohol has on an embryo at the beginning of pregnancy, before the placenta is formed. One study found no association with alcohol consumption before 15 weeks of pregnancy and low birth weight or premature birth.

Additional Information From Healthychildren Org:

In November 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a reportthat focused on recognizing, diagnosing, and treating FASD. The AAP reaffirmed their recommendation that no amount of alcohol should be consumed during any trimester of pregnancy with a video series in 2019. During the pandemic, people in the U.S. purchased markedly higher amounts of alcohol. A report out of Columbia University found that Americans bought nearly $42 billion worth of alcohol from March to September 2020 – an increase of 20% compared to the same seven months in 2019. Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol when pregnant may lead to miscarriage. This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

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