Pregnancy and Children

Alcohol and Pregnancy

Alcohol and Pregnancy     Alcohol and Pregnancy

Everything you eat and drink while you are pregnant affects your baby. If you drink alcohol, it can hurt your baby.

Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy

If you are pregnant and consume alcohol the alcohol passes through the placenta (umbilical cord) to your baby. In the unborn baby this alcohol is broken down much more slowly than in your body and, as a result, the alcohol level of the baby's blood can be even higher and can remain elevated longer than the level in your blood. The result could be that your baby suffers lifelong damage.

Women who drink alcohol while pregnant are more likely to have a miscarriage, a stillbirth, a baby with a low birth weight, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE).  Children with fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects may have mental retardation, behavioral problems, poor coordination, malformed hearts and brains, and distinct facial features.  Indeed, each year, more than 40,000 babies are born with some degree of alcohol related damage.

While you probably know that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects, you may not realize that even light drinking also may harm the baby you are carrying.   Because a safe level of alcohol intake during pregnancy cannot be determined, the March of Dimes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that any woman who is pregnant not consume any alcohol including beer, wine, wine coolers and hard liquor throughout their pregnancy and while nursing.

Questions and Answers About Alcohol and Pregnancy

What are the hazards of drinking alcohol during pregnancy?

In general, alcohol-related birth defects are more likely to result from drinking during the first trimester while growth problems are more likely to result from drinking in the third trimester. However, drinking at any stage of pregnancy can affect the brain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year between 1,300 and 8,000 babies in the United States are born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and the effects of FAS last a lifetime. Even if not mentally retarded, adolescents and adults with FAS have varying degrees of psychological and behavioral problems.

During pregnancy, how much alcohol is too much?

No level of drinking has been proven safe. You are advised not to drink any alcoholic beverages including beer, wine, wine coolers and hard liquor.  Because no amount of alcohol is proven safe, you should stop drinking immediately even if you only suspect that you are pregnant.

If a pregnant woman has one or two drinks before she realizes she is pregnant, can it harm the baby?

If you consumed alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, stop drinking now and your baby will have a good chance to be born healthy. If you want to get pregnant, do not drink alcohol. You may not know you are pregnant right away. Alcohol can hurt a baby even when you are only 1 or 2 months pregnant.  

How can I stop drinking?

There are many ways to help yourself stop drinking. Stay away from people or places that make you drink. Do not keep alcohol at home. If you need help you can talk with your health care provider, local hospital social worker, or contact a local Alcohol Anonymous group.

What other problems can drinking alcohol during pregnancy cause?

Consuming alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and stillbirth.

Is it safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

Small amounts of alcohol do get into breast milk and are passed on to the baby and large amounts of alcohol may interfere with ejection of milk from the breast. For these reasons, the March of Dimes recommends that women abstain from alcohol while they are nursing.

Can heavy drinking by the father contribute to FAS?

To date, there is no proof that heavy drinking by the father can cause FAS. There is, however, increasing evidence that heavy alcohol use by the male can lower the level of the male hormone testosterone, leading to low sperm counts and, occasionally, to infertility.

Additional Resources

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
Check your local phone book for
listings in your area.

National Council on Alcoholism
and Drug Dependence
20 Exchange Place Suite 2902
New York, NY 10005-3201
(800) 622-2255

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse
and Alcoholism
5635 Fishers Lane, MSC 9304
Bethesda, MD 20892-9304
(301) 443-3860

National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
900 17th Street, NW, Suite 910
Washington, DC 20006
(800) 66-NOFAS

Additional Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

The National Council on Alcoholism

Substance Abuse Treatment Facility locator

Advisory on Alcohol Use in Pregnancy

March of Dimes: Alcohol and pregnancy

March of Dimes:  Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy

American Pregnancy: Alcohol and its effects

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