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Article: Common Myths About Drinking & Pregnancy

Common Myths About Drinking & Pregnancy

There is a lot of information out there about alcohol and pregnancy. We’re here to set the record straight. There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy.  None.

Why don’t they have high rates of FASD in places like Europe, where women regularly drink?

Four of the five countries with the highest rates of fetal alcohol syndrome are located in Europe. These countries are Croatia, Ireland, Italy, and Belarus.1 Other countries in Europe also have high rates of FASD. For example, it is estimated that 17% of people in the United Kingdom have an FASD.2 This is much higher than the rate of FASD in the United States, which is 5%.3 FASD exists wherever people drink during pregnancy, and it is estimated that more than 1,700 babies with FASD are born each day around the world.4

How come some people drink during pregnancy and their children don’t have any effects?

There are many factors that determine how alcohol affects fetal development. These factors include things like the genetics, nutrition, and age of the pregnant person.5 The baby’s genes also play a role. For example, studies have found that while identical twins with alcohol exposure typically have the same effects, fraternal twins (who don’t have identical DNA) can have very different effects and birth conditions from one other.6 Alcohol affects each person, pregnancy, and baby differently. This is why the safest choice is to not drink any alcohol during pregnancy.7-9

Isn't a little wine safe during pregnancy? At least it’s not hard liquor!

Alcohol is alcohol, and one type of alcohol is not less harmful to an embryo or fetus than another.10 All types of alcohol – including red wine, white wine, wine coolers, hard cider, beer, and hard liquor – contain chemicals (known as teratogens) that can impact fetal development and cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), a brain-based permanent disability with wide ranging, lifelong effects. 11-14 The safest choice is not to drink any type of alcohol during pregnancy.

Isn't it safe to drink alcohol in the third trimester because the fetus is already developed?

The fetus develops at a rapid rate throughout the entire pregnancy, including during the third trimester.15 Most importantly, the brain is developing from conception through birth and continues to develop even after the baby is born.16 Because of this, the safest choice is to abstain from alcohol throughout the entire pregnancy, including the third trimester.

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1 Sebastiani G, et al. The effects of alcohol and drugs of abuse on maternal nutritional profile during pregnancy. Nutrients. 2018;10:1008.

2 McQuire C, Mukherjee R, Hurt L, Higgins A, Greene G, Farewell D, Kemp A, Paranjothy S. Screening prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in a region of the United Kingdom: A population-based birth cohort study. Preventive Medicine. 2019;118:344-351.

3 May PA, et al. Prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in 4 US communities. JAMA. 2018;319(5):474-482.

4 Lange S, Probst C, Gmel G, Rehm J, Burd L, Popova S. Global prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder among children and youth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(10):948-956.

5 Subramoney S, Eastman E, Adnams C, Stein DJ, Donald KA. The Early Developmental Outcomes of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure: A Review. Frontiers in Neurology. 2018; 9(1108).

6 Hemingway SJA, Bledsoe JM, Davies JK, Brooks A, Jirikowic T, Olson EM, Thorne JC. Twin study confirms virtually identical prenatal alcohol exposures can lead to markedly different fetal alcohol spectrum disorder outcomes – fetal genetics influences fetal vulnerability. Adv Pediatr Res. 2019;5:23.

7 Flak AL, Su, Bertrand J, Denny CH, Kesmodel US, Cogswell ME. The association of mild, moderate, and binge prenatal alcohol exposure and child neuropsychological outcomes: A meta-analysis. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2014;38(1):214-226.

8 Ramsay M. Genetic and epigenetic insights into fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Genome Medicine. 2010;2:27.

9 American Academy of Pediatrics. AAP Says No Amount of Alcohol Should Be Considered Safe During Pregnancy. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Says-No-Amount-of-Alcohol-Should-be-Considered-Safe-During-Pregnancy.aspx

10 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Use in Pregnancy. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html

11 Rutman D. Becoming FASD Informed: Strengthening Practice and Programs Working with Women with FASD. Substance Abuse: Research & Treatment. 2016;10:13-20.

12 Girault V, et al. Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Impairs Autophagy in Neonatal Brain Cortical Microvessels. Cell Death & Disease. 2017; 8(e2610).

13 Glass L, Mattson SN. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: A Case Study. J Pediatr Neuropsychol. 2017;3(2):114-135.

14 Terasaki LS, Schwarz JM. Impact of Prenatal and Subsequent Adult Alcohol Exposure on Pro-Inflammatory Cytokine Expression in Brain Regions Necessary for Simple Recognition Memory. Brain Sciences (2076-3425). 2017;7(10):1-16.

15 MedlinePlus. Fetal Development. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002398.htm

16 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early Brain Development and Health. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/early-brain-development.html