Pregnancy is hands down one of the most delicate periods in a woman’s life. Growing another human involves a lot of physical, physiological, and emotional turmoil, one which can be ruined if you give in to the desire for alcohol.
National health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, often suggest entirely abstaining from consuming alcohol throughout pregnancy.
There is no “safe amount” or “safe time” for consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Its involvement in every period or phase of pregnancy is harmful and can lead to irreparable damage to the developing fetus.
This article will explore everything you need to know about the impacts of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and why you should avoid it.
In this Article
- 1 Why is Consuming Alcohol during Pregnancy Dangerous?
- 2 What is FASD or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?
- 3 What are the Different Types of FASD?
- 4 Can FASD be Treated?
- 5 When is Alcohol Dangerous during Pregnancy?
- 6 What do Studies Say about Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy?
- 7 How to Avoid Drinking Alcohol during Pregnancy?
- 8 FAQs
Why is Consuming Alcohol during Pregnancy Dangerous?
During pregnancy, the mother and the fetus are connected via the umbilical cord. This means that everything that the mother consumes is passed down to the baby, and that includes alcohol too.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy often leads to many complications in the fetus, sometimes even leading to irrefutable miscarriages.
In most cases, rigorous alcohol consumption at a certain point or throughout the entire pregnancy often leads to a collection of conditions called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
Some of the common complications due to alcohol during pregnancy are:
- Behavioral and attention complications
- Congenital heart defects
- Stunted growth after childbirth
- Changes in the fetal face shape
- Poor muscle tone
- Learning delays
- Issues with speech and thinking ability
While the above complications are often temporary, there are multiple situations that could lead to chronic complications that can affect the child lifelong.
Some of these conditions are:
- Cerebral palsy
- Premature delivery
- Pregnancy loss
Every woman’s pregnancy journey is different; hence the impacts of alcohol in every pregnancy vary as well. While some babies are born without a complication and later experience issues with their growth and development, some fetuses don’t make it full-term due to the ill effects of alcohol during the pregnancy.
What is FASD or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?
FASD is a group of conditions that affects babies who are unintentionally exposed to alcohol before their birth. From physical complications to issues with behavior and learning, the condition has a variety of negative impacts on the developing fetus.
The primary cause of FASD is alcohol consumption by the mother. Irrespective of what one thinks, there is no “safe” amount of alcohol at any point in the pregnancy.
Babies born with FASD experience a series of physical and developmental conditions, some of which are temporary, while the rest are chronic and permanent. Also, FASD isn’t only limited to “hard liquor” like whiskey and rum. It can be caused via beer or wine as well. Hence, alcohol in every form is considered “non-suitable” during pregnancy.
The best way to avoid FASD is to eliminate alcohol from your routine completely. If you are actively trying to get pregnant, avoid drinking alcohol during that period.
Since the baby’s neural growth (especially brain growth) happens throughout the pregnancy, it isn’t surprising that doctors suggest giving up alcohol altogether, even if you are six months pregnant. There is no point in your pregnancy where drinking alcohol is safe for the baby in any form.
What are the Different Types of FASD?
As we mentioned before, FASD is a group of conditions that affect the baby who has been exposed to alcohol before birth.
Depending on the symptoms, FASD is divided into different types, including:
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
Babies who experience issues with their central nervous system after birth are often categorized under FAS. It is the most severe type of FASD that leads to a plethora of complications, including:
- Minor facial complications
- Growth-related issues
- Issues with learning, speech, hearing
- Low attention span
- Issues with communication
- Problems with vision or hearing
Some babies experience one of these above-mentioned symptoms, while a few others experience a mix of all of these symptoms.
Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
Babies born with ARND experience a lot of neurodevelopmental complications. They struggle with intellectual disabilities, ones that affect their ability to learn.
Most such babies end up experiencing issues in their social life, having a hard time keeping up with school work or maintaining friendships. They also have poor coordination and impulse control.
Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
This category of FASD affects the baby’s primary organs and their development. Most babies born with ARBD have issues with their heart, kidney, and bone health issues and are even deaf or hard of hearing.
Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE)
The last category under FASD covers the list of complications that the baby experiences due to prenatal alcohol exposure. This can affect the newborn in multiple ways, including:
- Poor thinking and memory
- Behavior problems
- Poor quality of life
Most pregnant women who drink at least two drinks in one sitting or 13 alcoholic drinks throughout the pregnancy and while trying to get pregnant can contribute to ND-PAE in the child after birth.
Can FASD be Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for FASD. However, earlier medical intervention can support a child’s growth and development.
There are two routes to treat FASD proactively –
Medical interventions – Involves prescribing medications to help with physical deficits, therapy, and training for the child and the parents to help them navigate through the issues. The treatment options will keep on changing, depending on how the child is responding to the treatment.
Protective factors – These include the preventive factors that can reduce the impacts of FASD on the child. Some of the most effective ones include an early diagnosis before the age of 6, ensuring the child is growing up in a safe environment, and involving special education to support their learning needs.
As a pregnant woman, if you have even sipped on alcohol, it is ideal to disclose that information to your OBGYN so they can keep an eye on any potential complication that could affect the child during or after birth.
When is Alcohol Dangerous during Pregnancy?
Consuming any type of alcoholic drink during pregnancy at any point in time is considered unsafe. There are no buffer windows in the process.
Since the baby undergoes consistent development throughout the entire period of pregnancy, it isn’t surprising that consuming alcohol is considered unsafe throughout this period.
Drinking alcohol during the first three months of pregnancy often leads to abnormal facial features. However, other complications like brain development and other CNS development can happen due to alcohol consumption at any given time in the pregnancy.
What do Studies Say about Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy?
Unlike many other factors, research concludes that alcohol consumption during pregnancy is unsafe. All the study results are conclusive, and that applies to drinking any amount of alcohol, any type of alcohol, and at any point during the pregnancy.
In a 2012 Danish study, the researchers examined how maternal alcohol consumption impacted babies who were then 5 years old.
The children were categorized into four groups, depending on how much alcohol their mothers drank during the pregnancy. It included – low, moderate, high, and binge drinking.
Researchers conducted a series of tests to examine the children’s IQ, attention, organization, planning, and self-control in a blind and randomized test without knowing the children had FASDs.
The researchers found little to no difference between children whose mothers drank low to moderate alcohol during their pregnancy and those who didn’t drink. On the other hand, there were issues with the results in children whose mothers drank high amounts or binged on alcohol during their pregnancy.
This shows that a low amount of alcohol might be safe during pregnancy. However, studies still highly emphasize abstaining from alcohol entirely throughout the pregnancy for the child’s safety as they develop.
How to Avoid Drinking Alcohol during Pregnancy?
If you are addicted to alcohol, saying “No Alcohol” throughout the nine months of pregnancy might be a difficult to manage. However, you need to prioritize the health and well-being of your unborn and developing child.
Hence, getting help early on in the pregnancy is crucial to help you abstain from drinking alcohol and get through the process smoothly.
In case you accidentally take a sip or two of alcohol without remembering, discuss the same with your doctor. In most cases, an accidental sip shouldn’t cause any irreparable damage. However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
That said, the following are some of the tips you can follow to avoid alcoholic drinks during pregnancy:
1. Identify the Triggers
The only reason you’d be propelled to reach for a drink is if you are dependent on alcohol. It can happen due to mental, societal, or psychological pressure.
However, that’s where you need to step up your game and identify what’s wrong. What is pushing you towards that glass of whiskey? Why are you so desperate for a drink even when you know the repercussions it will bring?
Sometimes, understanding what’s pushing you to chug a drink down can help you abstain from alcohol. So, the first step to eliminate alcohol from your diet throughout the pregnancy is to identify and work on getting rid of the triggers.
2. Discuss your Options with your OBGYN
There’s no one who will be able to guide you better through this itch better than your doctor. If you accidentally sipped on a glass of wine or drank a shot of whiskey because you forgot, you must discuss your options with your doctor.
Sometimes, unexpected pregnancies also require immediate consultations. You might not even realize you are pregnant and end up drinking alcohol without any inhibition.
In most cases, it can lead to a lot of pregnancy complications, which can be prevented if you discuss your options with your doctor. Besides physical evaluation and blood tests, your doctor can even refer you to a counselor or midwife who can help you navigate the complications better.
3. Involve a lot of Lifestyle Changes
Most people reach for alcohol when they are smoking or have the itch to drink when they are feeling lazy and lethargic.
If these are common triggers for you as well, get up and move. Cut out smoking altogether from your life during your pregnancy. Much like alcohol, even smoking cigarettes leads to many pregnancy and post-birth complications in the child.
Step out of the house, go for a walk, indulge in some yoga classes, etc. Do things that keep you moving and energetic throughout the day.
4. Handle your Stress
Dependency on alcohol often stems from stress. Pregnancy can add a lot to one’s stress, making them reach out for a glass or two of a drink.
This is where you need to create an intervention. Instead of letting all the stress pile up and overwhelm you, take charge of how you are feeling at that moment and work things out. You can practice meditation, breathing exercises, etc., to help calm your racing mind.
Additionally, if nothing seems to work out, reach out and talk to a professional who can help you navigate through these hard and testing times.
Is beer safe to drink during pregnancy?
Any form of alcohol, including beer and wine, is considered unsafe during pregnancy. If you are abstaining, it is ideal that you abstain from every form of alcohol known to man.
Can alcohol consumption lead to pregnancy loss?
Heavy drinking or binge drinking alcohol often leads to various complications, including stunted fetal growth, lack of fetal development, no organ formation, etc., which can eventually lead to pregnancy loss.
Are non-alcoholic drinks safe during pregnancy?
Most non-alcoholic drinks, like ginger ale, etc., are considered safe. However, we’d still recommend you discuss your options with your OBGYN because every pregnancy is different.
Alcohol can affect a lot of pregnancy symptoms and lead to a myriad of complications. If you are experiencing issues with alcohol dependency and are pregnant, we suggest you consult a doctor immediately and get the help you need. Sometimes, taking precautions and being cautious can help you avoid a lot of otherwise preventable mishaps.