There have been conflicting reports through the years about alcohol and pregnancy and the potential risks of drinking even very small amounts while pregnant. The medical recommendation is typically to err on the side of caution and avoid alcohol altogether while pregnant. New research is shedding some light on why this may be the best advice.
Previous Studies vs. Current Studies on Alcohol and Pregnancy
For the most part, previous research on alcohol and pregnancy focused on heavy alcohol use. For example, alcohol and pregnancy research looked at adverse outcomes like fetal alcohol syndrome and its links to heavy drinking.
As an example, a recent study published in the Obstetrics and Gynecology journal indicated minimal use of alcohol during the first trimester didn’t appear to be linked to pregnancy complications, low birth weights or premature births. A 2012 study found low-to-moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy didn’t affect the executive functioning of five-year-olds. Executive functioning is a broad term that can refer to organizing, managing time and remembering details. Even with these studies, many people have held onto the belief that it’s best not to drink during pregnancy.
However, a new research study puts more definitive data behind that recommendation.
The study, which was published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, found the following:
- Women who do not drink are at the least amount of risk: Based on the alcohol and pregnancy study and guidelines from the CDC on alcohol and pregnancy, the best option is to avoid alcohol completely.
- Less than one daily drink increases miscarriage risk by 19%: In general, early pregnancy and drinking alcohol was linked to a 19% greater risk of miscarriage as compared to women who didn’t have any alcohol. The reason for this increase may be because alcohol use can increase fetal oxidative stress, damaging cells. As an additional note, even nonalcoholic beer and pregnancy could be a problem because many nonalcoholic beers have a small amount of alcohol, and this study shows that even small amounts can have effects on pregnancy.
- More than five drinks per week increases miscarriage risk by 6% per drink: Alcohol and miscarriage in early pregnancy are linked.
Dangers of Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy
Along with the risk of miscarriage that can occur with alcohol consumption and early pregnancy, there are other risks of drinking while pregnant, including:
- Premature birth
- Brain damage
- Growth and development problems
- Heart defects
- Hearing or vision problems
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
- Low birthweight
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Signs of alcohol abuse can include:
- Being unable to stop drinking despite a desire to
- Drinking secretly
- Ignoring warnings about alcohol and early pregnancy and alcohol abuse and pregnancy
- Continuing to drink despite negative health effects
- Making drinking a priority
What to Do If You Are Pregnant & Having Trouble with Quitting Drinking
If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant and you are having a difficult time quitting drinking alcohol, help and resources are available. The March of Dimes has tips for women who are pregnant and need to stop drinking. Their tips include:
- Speaking to your health care provider
- Join a local support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous
- Visiting the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence website
- Using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, which includes a treatment facility locator