Alcohol during pregnancy

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is among the most polarizing behaviors a woman can engage in. Although various teams of researchers make differing conclusions about whether, or how much alcohol affects babies, doctors, pregnancy guides, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as the CDC and other health authorities categorically state that no amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy. Some healthcare providers may differ on what amount of alcohol, if any, is safe during pregnancy.

What are the risks of alcohol?

When you’re pregnant, your baby is totally dependent on you for all the nutrients that they will need to grow big and strong.

Believe it or not, alcohol is technically a poison, and can seriously alter the mental functioning of an adult, and even more so a gestating baby. Oxygen and nutrients flow to the bloodstream through the placenta, so when you drink alcohol, some of that will get absorbed. Everybody has enzymes that break down alcohol, but these enzymes are found in different quantities in different people, so some people take longer than others to get the booze out of their system- chances are, a developing baby won’t have nearly enough enzymes yet to constantly detoxify the blood, so repeated exposure to too much can lead to an elevated risk for various forms of stunted development, stillbirth, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs).

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are permanent defects and disabilities that can appear in children whose mothers drank alcohol while pregnant, and the symptoms range from mild to severe, depending on the case. Children with FASD may display any number of the following symptoms:

  • Small eyes, upturned nose, and a smooth area between the nose and upper lip
  • Learning disabilities, mild to severe
  • Heart problems, issues with other organs
  • Distinctively small head
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Below-average height and weight
  • Poor fine-motor development, coordination

Women who drank while pregnant that notice any of these symptoms in their child should let their healthcare provider know how much, and how often they drank to determine whether the alcohol may have played a role in the child’s disorder.

The bottom line

Simply put, nobody knows how much alcohol it takes to negatively impact a pregnancy, so ACOG and many other organizations take a hard stance against it. You should talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions about alcohol during pregnancy.

Read more
  • Steven M Day. “Alcohol consumption during pregnancy: the growing evidence.” Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology. Volume 54, Issue 3, page 200. Web. 3/12/2015.
  • “Alcohol and Pregnancy: Know the Facts.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2/6/2008. Web.
  • K Albertsen, AM N Andersen, J Olsen, M Gronbaek. “Alcohol Consumption during Pregnancy and the Risk of Preterm Delivery.” American Journal of Epidemiology. Volume 159, Issue 2, pp. 155-161. Web. 7/31/2003.
  • “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.” U.S National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus, n.d. Web.
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