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Article: Effects of Drinking During Pregnancy

Effects of Drinking During Pregnancy

Drinking any alcohol during pregnancy can impact your baby’s development and cause irreversible birth defects and brain injury. Children exposed to alcohol during pregnancy are at risk of having fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). FASD can be prevented by not drinking any alcohol during pregnancy.

Alcohol and Pregnancy Don't Mix

Alcohol is a teratogen. A teratogen is something that causes birth defects. For example, tobacco, lead and alcohol are all teratogens. Drinking during pregnancy can have serious effects on how the fetus develops. It can harm different organs, and it is especially harmful to the brain. The brain is developing throughout the entire pregnancy. Because of this, drinking alcohol during any trimester can cause brain injury. It can also cause microcephaly, which is when the head and brain are much smaller than expected. These effects to the brain can lead to mild to severe disabilities. The safest choice is not to drink alcohol at any time or in any amount during pregnancy.

Alcohol and the Developing Baby

Alcohol crosses through the placenta and affects how a baby is developing.1 It can be especially harmful to the baby’s brain, which is developing throughout the entire pregnancy.2  When alcohol is consumed during pregnancy, that baby is then has prenatal alcohol exposure. Click here to see what’s developing at each stage of pregnancy.

People with prenatal alcohol exposure may have trouble with things like:

  • Attention
  • Behavior
  • Learning
  • Language
  • Memory3

Drinking during pregnancy can also cause:

  • Heart problems4
  • Increased risk of infections5
  • Difficulty with movement6
  • Other health issues

No Safe Time, No Safe Amount

Any amount of alcohol, even if it’s just one glass of wine, passes from the mother to the fetus.7 All major health groups state that there is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy.

These health groups include:

  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC)8
  • American Academy of Pediatrics9
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)10
  • U.S. Surgeon General11

There is no safe time to drink during pregnancy. Drinking during any of the 3 trimesters can affect the fetus. It makes no difference if the alcohol is wine, beer, or hard liquor (like vodka or rum).12

View sources

1 Burd L, Blair J, Dropps K. Prenatal alcohol exposure, blood alcohol concentrations and alcohol elimination rates for the mother, fetus and newborn. Journal of Perinatology. 2012;32:652-659.

2 Hendrickson et al. Cortical gyrification is abnormal in children with prenatal alcohol exposure. NeuroImage: Clinical. 2017;15 391-400.

3 Flak AL, Su S, 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. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2014;38(1):214-26.

4 Westrup S. Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: as prevalent as autism?. Educational Psychology in Practice. 2013;29(3): 309-325.

5 Noor S, Milligan ED. Lifelong Impacts of Moderate Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on Neuroimmune Function. Frontiers in Immunology. 2018.

6 Taggart TC, Simmons RW, Thomas JD, Riley EP. Children with Heavy Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Exhibit Atypical Gait Characteristics. Alcoholism: Clinical &Experimental Research. 2017;41(9):1648-1655.

7 Burd L, Blair J, Dropps K. Prenatal alcohol exposure, blood alcohol concentrations and alcohol elimination rates for the mother, fetus and newborn. Journal of Perinatology. 2012;32:652-659.

8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html

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 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) prevention program. https://www.acog.org/About-ACOG/ACOG-Departments/Tobacco–Alcohol–and-Substance-Abuse/Fetal-Alcohol-Spectrum-Disorders-Prevention-Program

11 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Notice to Readers: Surgeon General’s Advisory on Alcohol Use in Pregnancy. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5409a6.htm

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