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Alcohol in Pregnancy: How Much is Safe?

By Catherine Ruhl, CNM, MS

Alcohol in Pregnancy: How Much is Safe?

Is Alcohol In Pregnancy Safe?

When it comes to drinking in pregnancy, you may be hearing mixed messages. You may have heard that there’s no safe time during pregnancy to drink, and no safe amount or type of alcohol. But still you wonder, how could a glass of wine every so often really be harmful?

As with all decisions in pregnancy, you should understand the facts behind the advice. Several national studies have shown that the women who are most likely to drink alcohol during pregnancy are age 30 or older, and have higher income and education.

No Safe Amount of Alcohol

First, there’s no safe amount of alcohol in pregnancy, and no one alcoholic beverage type, such as beer versus wine, is safer. The same amount of alcohol is found in a standard serving of beer (12 ounces), wine (4 to 5 ounces) or hard liquor (1.5 ounces).

When you drink alcohol so does your baby as it freely crosses the placenta. Your developing baby’s liver isn’t yet mature, so he can’t process alcohol like you do. He’ll get the full effect of the alcohol you drink. If you drink “just a little” and don’t feel the effects, that doesn’t mean your baby isn’t being affected.

Alcohol-related Brain Damage

Alcohol depresses your central nervous system, and it can directly affect your baby’s brain development throughout pregnancy, not just in the early weeks or months. This is why there’s no time during pregnancy that drinking doesn’t bring the risk of alcohol-related brain damage.

What does alcohol-related brain damage look like? Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a range of lifelong physical, mental and behavioral disabilities linked to alcohol use in pregnancy. FASD is thought to affect as many as 1 in 100 babies born in the U.S and often the signs don’t show up until a child is school-aged.

When You Drink, Baby Drinks Alcohol Too

When you drink alcohol, in any amount, at any time during pregnancy, your baby is drinking it, too, and that could cause lifelong problems. If it seems wrong to plan to offer your newborn a few sips of a craft beer, why would you do the same when he’s even smaller and more vulnerable while growing inside you?

Also read: Breastfeeding & Alcohol consumption

Know the Signs: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

FASD may be diagnosed in babies and children by the following when mom has used alcohol in pregnancy:

  • Learning problems
  • Difficulty with attention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Slow language development
  • Memory and judgment problems

Catherine Ruhl, CNM, MS, is director of Women’s Health at AWHONN and a certified nurse midwife.


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