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Is Alcohol Safe During Pregnancy?

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is it safe to drink alcohol during pregnancy Barry Austin/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

In one word, no. Very small amounts may do no harm, but the medical profession have limited evidence on the effect of small amounts of alcohol on the fetus. They don’t really know whether occasional light drinking will hurt or not.

Previous official advice said it was okay for pregnant women to consume one or two units of alcohol a week.

However, in 2007, research found that 1 in 10 pregnant women were drinking more alcohol than they should. Many were drinking around the time of conception because they didn’t realize they were pregnant.

Because of this, in 2008 the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) changed their official advice. The Institute now recommends that women who are trying to conceive and women who are pregnant do not drink alcohol at all.

The advice is the same in the United States. According to the American Pregnancy Association, there is no known safe level of alcohol in pregnancy.

What’s all the Fuss About?

Alcohol during pregnancy, particularly if consumed within the first three months, has been proven to cause the following problems:

• Miscarriage
• Premature birth
• Low birth weight babies
• Fetal alcohol syndrome
• Developmental problems in the neonate
• Birth Defects
• Stillbirth

This is because the placenta cannot protect the baby from all the substances that go into his mother’s body. Alcohol has been shown to freely cross the placenta into the baby. This means that every time a pregnant woman has a drink, her baby is also having a drink.

If you drink alcohol while you are trying to conceive, it may also delay conception or cause infertility.

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

There are 40,0000 babies born every year in the United States with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, making it the most common cause of preventable mental retardation in American babies. Unfortunately the effects on a baby who has been exposed to too much alcohol are permanent and cannot be fixed.

Symptoms and consequences include:

• Mental retardation
• Deformities of the bones and/or organs (including heart and brain defects)
• Central nervous system problems
• Motor problems
• Language problems (including speech delays)
• Difficulty with memory and attention span
• Stunted growth
• Hearing problems
• Death

Fetal alcohol syndrome can vary in its severity. Babies do not necessarily experience all of these symptoms or consequences. Some may have just one or two.

There are also noticeable facial features in many babies with fetal alcohol syndrome. They may have small eyes, an upturned or short nose, flat cheeks and thin lips. These features are usually temporary and will fade when the child gets older.

For more information on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, contact the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at 1-800-66-NOFAS (666-6327).


Alcohol during Pregnancy, NHS Local. Web. 12 June 2012.

Pregnancy And Alcohol - How Much Is Safe?, Medical News Today. Web. 12 June 2012.

Alcohol During Pregnancy: What You Should Know. The American Pregnancy Association. Web. 12 June 2012.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), The American Pregnancy Association. Web. 12 June 2012.

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/ She is the mother of five children and practices natural childbirth, delayed cord clamping, full term breastfeeding and organic food diet.

Reviewed June 12, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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