The Reality of Drinking During Pregnancy
posted by OB/GYN | November 9, 2018
If you have recently become pregnant, you’re probably receiving a lot of advice from family and friends regarding pregnancy dos and don’ts. Some of the advice you hear may be contradictory. For example, you’re probably aware of the potential health hazards that alcohol consumption poses to an unborn baby, but you may have also heard rumors that some types of alcohol may be safe (e.g., wine is safer than other types of alcohol if used in moderation, red wine is safer than white wine, etc.) Maybe you’ve even heard other women swear that they drank an occasional glass of wine during pregnancy and delivered a perfectly healthy baby.
Regardless of whether these anecdotes are true, the rumors that some types of alcohol are safe for pregnant women are false. Women should avoid drinking any alcohol while pregnant, and for good reason. Alcohol is alcohol, regardless of whether it comes in the form of wine, beer or hard liquor, and the color of the wine makes no difference. The prevailing wisdom among medical professionals is that no amount of alcohol is deemed safe during pregnancy. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that one drink is guaranteed to cause irreversible damage to your unborn child, it does mean that there is no way to determine how much is too much, so if the question is, “How much alcohol can a woman drink during pregnancy?” the best and safest answer is, “None at all.”
You may have heard that if you drink while pregnant, your baby drinks too, and in a sense, this is true. An unborn baby receives nourishment, via the placenta and umbilical cord, from the food the mother eats. If you drink while pregnant, the alcohol that you consume passes from your blood, through the umbilical cord and into the baby’s system.
Exposure to alcohol while in the womb can result in fetal alcohol syndrome, a medical condition that can have lifelong negative effects. Babies with fetal alcohol syndrome may have a small head size, abnormal facial features, low birth weight that may require hospitalization in the neonatal intensive care unit, and sleep/sucking problems that may lead to feeding difficulties and failure to thrive.
Fetal alcohol syndrome doesn’t go away as the baby gets older. Children and adults with fetal alcohol syndrome may experience:
Apart from the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined alcohol use during pregnancy can also cause a baby to be stillborn or induce a miscarriage. The CDC recommends no alcohol use during pregnancy and further recommends that women who are sexually active and may become pregnant also abstain from alcohol. The reason is it can take up to four to six weeks for a pregnant woman to realize that she has become pregnant and may unknowingly expose her baby to alcohol during its earliest stages of development.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is 100% preventable if you abstain from alcohol while pregnant. If you believe you may be pregnant and/or want help to stop drinking, contact your doctor.
“Alcohol Use in Pregnancy.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Wine During Pregnancy.” American Pregnancy Association
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.
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