Alcohol is the leading cause of preventable birth defects. While pregnant, there is no safe amount of alcohol, no safe time to drink alcohol and no safe type of alcohol.

When mom drinks, the developing baby drinks

You’re taking steps to eat healthy foods, get more physical activity and avoid anything that could harm your developing baby. So, you should know that if you drink alcoholic drinks of any kind during pregnancy, in any amount, and at any point in pregnancy, there can be effects on your baby. When mom drinks, the fetus gets at least as much alcohol in her system as mom and sometimes more. This is because a developing baby has little or no ability to clear the alcohol from her system. When mom drinks alcohol it can accumulate in the amniotic fluid around baby and this means baby is exposed a second time. Babies exposed to alcohol in the womb can have lifelong effects including damage to developing organs, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, poor reasoning and judgement and difficulties communicating socially.

Effects of alcohol on pregnancy

Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy have higher rates of miscarriage, prematurity and stillbirth. Studies have shown that women drinking five drinks or more per week have several times the risk of these adverse pregnancy outcomes compared to women who did not drink at all during pregnancy. Exposure to alcohol in pregnancy is also associated with higher rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. 

The impact of alcohol on baby can’t be predicted

You may be thinking—I know plenty of people who drank a little during pregnancy and their children are just fine. The effects of alcohol for a mom and baby pair, during each pregnancy, can’t be predicted. Both mom and baby’s genetics can influence the outcome of mom’s drinking and so can the timing in pregnancy of alcohol exposure, other substances mom may use such as marijuana, mom’s nutrition and even her stress level.

It’s never too late to stop drinking

If you’ve drank alcohol during your pregnancy, discuss this with your healthcare provider. If you’re worried about your drinking don’t hesitate to ask for help. Stopping drinking at any point in pregnancy can make a positive difference to you and your baby.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)

  • FASDs are lifelong—but they’re also preventable
  • Alcohol in pregnancy has been shown to be more harmful than other recreational drugs, including cocaine, heroin and marijuana
  • Alcohol can damage a developing baby before you even know you’re pregnant
  • FASDs are often missed or not diagnosed promptly, making it an invisible disorder


See also: Planning for the Fourth Trimester
How to Breastfeed if You’re an Adoptive or Surrogate Parent
Lactation Options & Strategies for LBGTQ Persons

Catherine Ruhl, DNP, CNM is editor of Healthy Mom&Baby and a certified nurse-midwife in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Catherine Ruhl, DNP, CNM is editor of Healthy Mom&Baby and a certified nurse-midwife in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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