Pregnancy and Alcohol: Safety, Effects, and Addiction
When you consume alcohol during pregnancy, so does your baby, because alcohol passes freely through the placenta to your baby. If you choose to drink alcohol while you are pregnant, you will increase the risk that your baby will be born with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are the full spectrum of birth defects caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. Up to 40,000 babies are born with an FASD each year in the U.S.
Facts About Pregnancy and Alcohol
Alcohol is a teratogen
Teratogen is a substance known to be harmful to human development.
Alcohol crosses the placenta to your baby
When you drink alcohol, so does your baby. Because babies are small compared to adults, alcohol breaks down much more slowly than in a grown person. This means that alcohol remains in a baby’s blood much longer than in the blood of its mother thus leading to possible irreversible harm to the baby’s development.
All drinks containing alcohol can harm your baby
There is no known safe amount of alcohol that you can consume if you are pregnant. It is best to discuss any drinking patterns with your healthcare provider.
Alcohol Effects on the Baby
Your baby is in a constant state of growth and development over the entire course of your pregnancy. During the first four weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s heart, central nervous system, eyes, arms, and legs are developing. Your baby’s brain begins to develop around the third week and continues to mature through the rest of your pregnancy.
During the third trimester, your baby will be growing rapidly. If you consume an excessive amount of alcohol during these crucial stages of development, you can cause serious harm to your baby. Results of excessive drinking (drinking on a regular basis or binge drinking) can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effects. These are a lifetime, irreversible effects that can result in physical, mental, and neurobehavioral birth defects.
What if I drank alcohol before I knew I was pregnant?
If you were not aware that you were pregnant and you drank alcohol, the best thing you can do now is to STOP drinking immediately. The sooner you quit, the better. If you stop drinking now, the risk of harm will decrease.
Is there any safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy?
There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to consume while pregnant and the more you drink, the more you will increase the risk that your baby will have problems. According to the Surgeon General, the type of drinking that creates the greatest risk of FASD’s is binge drinking (drinking more than 5 drinks at one time), or drinking seven or more drinks in one week.
Drinking less than this amount has also been known to lead to FASD. This is why we regard any amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy as being unsafe.
Need help with an addiction?
If you are pregnant and are also addicted to alcohol, you can get help from the following organizations:
- National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information (800-729-6686)
- National Alcohol & Drug HopeLine 1-800-NCA-CALL (622-2255)
If you would like to learn more about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome you can call the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at 1-800-66-NOFAS (666-6327)
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Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. March of Dimes.
2. Department of Health & Human Services.