During pregnancy, no alcohol is safe to drink

If you’ve heard otherwise, you’ve heard wrong. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy, even in moderation, can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

Frequently asked questions

The relentless, accumulating effects of alcohol on an embryo.

A Trimester Timeline. There can be different effects to the fetus depending on when the drinking during pregnancy happens. Some of these effects (but not all of them) are shared below.

Alcohol in the 1st trimester: 12 times more likely to have an FASD if drinking happens during the 1st 13 weeks. Major effects on:

  • Brain
  • Spinal cord
  • Heart
  • Face

Alcohol in the 2nd trimester: 61 times more likely to have an FASD if drinking happens in both the 1st and 2nd trimesters. Major effects on:

  • Brain
  • Spinal cord
  • Immune system

Alcohol in the 3rd trimester: 65 times more likely to have an FASD if drinking happens all 3 trimesters. Major effects on:

  • Brain
  • Spinal cord
  • Bones1-13

Learn how to prevent FASD.

Having a healthy, alcohol-free pregnancy.

One of the most critical times to prevent any issues in your pregnancy is before you even become pregnant. Here are some tips for planning a healthy pregnancy:

  • Discuss medications you take, vaccines you may need, and steps you can take to have a healthy pregnancy with your health care provider.
  • Do not use alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs.
  • Take at least 400 mcg of folic acid each day. Folic acid is a B vitamin that can prevent major birth defects.
  • Try to follow a healthy lifestyle, including eating nutritious foods, exercising appropriately, and getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

Click here to learn more about enjoying an alcohol-free pregnancy.

Nearly half of all U.S. pregnancies are unintended.

An unintended pregnancy is a pregnancy that is unplanned, or unwanted, at the time of conception. Whether you want to become pregnant within the next year or not, it is important to talk to your health care provider about family planning options.

In the United States, nearly half (45%) of all pregnancies are unintended, and many people do not know they are pregnant until 4-6 weeks after conception. By this time, they could have exposed the developing embryo to alcohol without even knowing they were pregnant. By taking steps to plan your pregnancy, you can reduce the likelihood of unintended pregnancy and unintended prenatal alcohol exposure.

Click here to learn more about the importance of planned pregnancies.

View sources

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FASD Brochure: Final. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/documents/fasdbrochure_final.pdf

2 Lebel C, Roussotte F, Sowell ER. Imaging the Impact of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on the Structure of the Developing Human Brain. Neuropsychol Rev. 2011;21:102-118.

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

4 Muralidharan P, Sarmah S, Feng C. Zhou, Marrs JA. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Associated Neural Defects: Complex Mechanisms and Potential Therapeutic Targets. Brain Sciences (2076-3425). 2013;3(2):964-991.

5 Lewis SM, Vydrová RR, Leuthold AC, Georgopoulos AP. Cortical miscommunication after prenatal exposure to alcohol. Experimental Brain Research.2016;234(11):3347-3353.

6 Sharma VK, Hill SY. Differentiating the effects of familial risk for alcohol dependence and prenatal exposure to alcohol on offspring brain morphology. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2017;41(2):312-322.

7 Treit S, Zhou D, Chudley AE, et al. Relationships between Head Circumference, Brain Volume and Cognition in Children with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure. PLoS ONE.2016;11(2):1-15.

8 Feldman HS, et al. Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Patterns and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects and Growth Deficiencies: A Prospective Study. Alcohol Clin Exp Res.2012;36(4):670-676.

9 Sawada Feldman H, Lyons Jones K, Lindsay S, et al. Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Patterns and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects and Growth Deficiencies: A Prospective Study. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. 2012;36(4):670-676.

10 Bake S, Tingling JD, Miranda RC. Ethanol Exposure During Pregnancy Persistently Attenuates Cranially Directed Blood Flow in the Developing Fetus: Evidence from Ultrasound Imaging in a Murine Second Trimester Equivalent Model. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2012;36:748-758

11 May PA et al. Maternal alcohol consumption producing fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD): quantity, frequency, and timing of drinking. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2013; 133(2): 502-512.

12 Gauthier TW. Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and the Developing Immune System. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. 2015;37(2):e1-e7.

13 Sawant OB, Ramadoss J, Hogan HA, Washburn SE. The role of acidemia in maternal binge alcohol-induced alterations in fetal bone functional properties. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013;37(9):1476-82.