When you become pregnant, there are a lot of things you have to give up including deli meat, certain soft cheeses, and alcohol. The concept of not drinking alcohol while pregnant has become an ingrained part of medical understanding in the U.S., but what does the real research indicate about the effects of alcohol during pregnancy?
The following offers an overview of everything you should know about alcohol and pregnancy and the effects of alcohol during pregnancy.
While there is a bit of debate about the possible effects of alcohol during pregnancy when you occasionally have a small glass of wine, there is a consensus about the effects of the heavy use of alcohol and pregnancy.
There is no debate about the fact that heavy drinking during pregnancy can result in a range of birth defects.
The March of Dimes has a set of recommendations for women regarding alcohol and pregnancy, and they advise women not to drink if they’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or believe they could be pregnant.
According to the March of Dimes, drinking at any time during your pregnancy can cause health problems for the fetus because alcohol passes through the placenta and umbilical cord, and this includes wine, beer, liquor, and wine coolers. They advise that there’s no time during pregnancy that it’s safe to drink, and some of the reasons they issue this warning include the fact that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can increase the chances of premature birth, brain damage and associated growth and development problems, and a range of birth defects.
Some of the birth defects possible with alcohol and pregnancy include intellectual and development disabilities, and there is a condition called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders or FASDs. Children who are on this spectrum may have delays in physical, mental and emotional development, and this usually lasts for the duration of the child’s life. According to the March of Dimes, binge drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of this occurring, and binge drinking is defined as having four or more drinks within a two to three-hour time frame.
Other risks outlined by the March of Dimes with alcohol and pregnancy can include low birth weight, miscarriage, and stillbirth.
The March of Dimes warns that if you feel like you have an alcohol use disorder that you seek professional treatment to help you stop, so you can avoid the effects of alcohol during pregnancy.
The Centers for Disease Control has similar guidelines to the March of Dimes, and they tell women they shouldn’t drink if they’re sexually active and not using contraception. Some of the specific effects of alcohol during pregnancy that are named by the CDC include abnormal facial features, a small head size, shorter-than-average height and low body weight, coordination problems, hyperactivity and attention problems, difficulty in school and learning disabilities, delays in speech and language, intellectual disability and low IQ. They also name other potential effects of alcohol during pregnancy include having sleep and sucking problems as a baby, vision or hearing problems, and problems associated with the heart, kidney or bones.
While heavy drinking or binge drinking is universally agreed upon to be extremely dangerous during pregnancy, light drinking isn’t as agreed upon.
While most agencies and medical groups warn women shouldn’t drink at all, there isn’t a lot of research about the light use of alcohol and pregnancy right now.
While there aren’t clear risks that are currently known about the effects of alcohol during pregnancy if you were to let’s say have a glass of champagne at an event, doctors still advise against it because the risks really aren’t known. Doctors feel it’s best to advise women that abstaining altogether leaves that risk of the effects of alcohol during pregnancy entirely out of the equation.
There’s also the problem that comes with the fact that a lot of people wouldn’t define light alcohol use in the same way as a medical professional. For example, for some women light drinking could be two glasses of wine a night, and that could be risky, whereas one glass might not be.
There are just so unknown variables when it comes to alcohol and pregnancy, and the effects of alcohol during pregnancy can be so harmful that it still stands that women should avoid drinking during this time.
The risks are high with alcohol and pregnancy. If you combine alcohol and pregnancy, the side effects can be lifelong for your child, can range from mild to severe, and can include physical problems as well as intellectual and emotional developmental problems.
It’s advised that because of the effects of alcohol during pregnancy that women abstain from drinking even while trying to become pregnant, or being sexually active without the use of adequate contraception. Of course, you should always discuss alcohol and pregnancy with your physician first and foremost, but official recommendations advise women to avoid combing alcohol and pregnancy.
If you feel like it will be difficult for you to stop drinking while pregnant, you should consider a professional alcohol treatment program to ensure the health and well-being of your unborn child.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.