Alcohol and Pregnancy: What are the Effects and Dangers?

Last Updated: August 7, 2019

Alcohol and Pregnancy

Many women around the world drink alcohol. This substance is commonly found in beverages such as beer, wine, vodka, etc. However, even though alcohol is very commonly consumed, it can also be extremely dangerous and hazardous for health. Drinking, pregnancy, and health are simply things that do not mix well. If you drink alcohol, pregnancy can be a dangerous time for your baby.

So, if you are pregnant, or think that you might get pregnant soon, then it is important for you to know all of the dangers that alcohol can cause pregnant women and their babies. This article will outline the side effects of alcohol abuse while pregnant.

Alcohol and Pregnancy Facts

There are some questions that are frequently asked about alcohol and pregnancy. These questions include whether drinking alcohol cause a miscarriage and how does alcohol affect a fetus, among many others.

Well, alcohol is very dangerous for fetal development. This is because fetal livers are not as developed as adult livers, and cannot filter toxins as effectively. As a result, alcohol stays in the fetus’ body longer and can do more harm. Because of this fact, pregnant women should always avoid this substance. There is no safe amount to drink while pregnant. Alcohol goes through the placenta and reaches the baby and can cause major harm. Ethanol can harm a future mother as ell – for example, alcohol-induced depression when combined with postpartum depression can lead to unpredictable consequences. So, if you are pregnant, you should avoid alcohol.

Some mothers are unaware of the harm alcohol can cause to their babies, or they don’t believe that it can cause damage. However, the CDC has stated drinking while pregnant can have a strong negative impact on both the mental and physical development of the fetus. The newborn can even suffer from alcohol withdrawal if the woman consumed ethanol during pregnancy.

There is an entire class of disorders that are associated with drinking during pregnancy. These disorders are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). FASDs are a category of health issues that involve permanent damage which result in psychological, behavioral, and cognitive impairments in babies.

If you are a mother and if you drink during pregnancy, you can give your baby all of the following health issues:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Mental impairment
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • Miscarriage
  • Low birth weight
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Even though it is a very sad illness, unfortunately, FASDs is common in the US. Roughly 2-5 children in the US have some form of FASD. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is an extreme form of FASD is also very common in the US. About 6-9 children out of 1,000 have it.

FASD can only be caused by consuming alcohol while pregnant. So, mothers are directly responsible for creating this illness. If you are pregnant, and if you drink alcohol regularly, then you also significantly raise your chances of causing miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome.

Unfortunately, even though a lot of women known that drinking during pregnancy is terrible, many continue to do so for the entire duration of their pregnancy. Roughly 1 in 33 pregnant women binge drink while pregnant. Also, around 10 percent of pregnant women drink at least once per month. Further, pregnant women who binge drink will often do so about 4 or five times per month. College graduates who are between the ages of 35-44 years old have the highest levels of alcohol use during pregnancy.

There is a belief held by many that it is acceptable for pregnant women to drink the occasional glass of wine after the first trimester. However, this is not true. All consumption of this substance should be avoided for the entire duration of the pregnancy. This is the only way to protect the baby from alcohol-related disorders including the alcohol-induced anxiety fully.

Alcohol-Related Health and Birth Problems

No matter how much you may think drinking alcohol during pregnancy is okay, even a single glass of wine could potentially be harmful. Alcohol moves right across the placental barrier and enters the fetus’ body. The CDC makes it very clear that no amount is safe for mothers to drink while pregnant.

Fetuses do not have advanced and fully developed organs like adults. As a result, they cannot break alcohol down quickly. It remains in the fetus’ body for too long and causes damage. This is especially true if the mother binge drinks.

Also, some women metabolize alcohol slower than others. This is due to having low levels of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. So, if you have low levels of this enzyme, then your baby will be at an even higher risk of developing FAS if you drink during pregnancy.

Also, the genes that the baby has can determine how much narcotics effects it. Some babies have genes that make them less able to tolerate toxins well. These babies have an increased risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome if the mother drinks during pregnancy.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a very unfortunate disease. Babies with FAS often have many health issues. These include facial abnormalities, ADD, anger issues, and irregular mood problems. These problems occur because fetal brain development is negatively affected when the mother drinks while pregnant.

All of the following are symptoms and issues commonly associated with FAS:

  • Low birth weight
  • Intellectual disability
  • Microcephaly (small head and brain)
  • Heart issues
  • Kidney, liver, and spine disease
  • Abnormal ears
  • Small chin
  • Small nose
  • Thin upper lip
  • Epicanthic folds
  • Small palpebral fissures

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a very sad disorder. Children who have it often grow much more slowly than those who do not. They also can have delayed development of language and motor skills. Further, children who have FAS often have difficulties with their memory and learning. Seizures can also occur.
There is no blood test for FAS. When doctors diagnose the disease, they do so based on symptoms. Special education is often required for children with FAS; this is one of the alcoholism effects on the family. This is because many children who have FAS simply cannot learn effectively in a typical classroom setting. Psychological counseling is often needed for the families of children who have FAS because FAS is complicated to deal with for the entire family. Speech therapy, mental health counseling, education for parents, and physical therapy can all be helpful too.

Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)

Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a different form of FAS. With pFAS, the children may not have many visible physical defects and abnormalities. However, they often have neurological, structural, and functional abnormalities in their brain which were caused by the mother’s alcohol consumption. Because pFAS is not as obvious physically, it can be more challenging to diagnose.

Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)

This disorder is similar to FAS and pFAS. Doctors who make this diagnosis commonly see the following symptoms: neurodevelopmental issues, self-regulation problems, adaptive skills issues, and behavioral issues which appear later in life.

Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)

Many physical defects can occur to a baby as a result of alcohol use during pregnancy. These defects include kidney issues, ear and eye malformations, heart issues, and skeletal deformities.

Drinking During Pregnancy: The Timeline

Although drinking alcohol during any trimester is dangerous, drinking it during the first trimester is the most dangerous. This is because this is the point when the baby’s face, brain, spinal cord, and other structures are developing.

Drinking Alcohol During the First Trimester

Every alcoholic beverage that you consume during this period increases the risk of the baby having abnormal facial features by 25 percent. It also results in a 12 percent increased chance that the baby will have a smaller sized head, and a 16 percent increased the chance of the baby having a low birthweight.

Further, every drink you consume during the first trimester results in an increased chance of the baby having neurological abnormalities and damage to brain circuitry. The second half of the first trimester is the period during pregnancy in which the baby is most at risk for damage caused by the mother’s alcohol consumption.

Drinking Alcohol During the Second Trimester

Even though many believe that it is okay to drink after the first trimester, it is not. The spinal cord and brain development throughout all stages of pregnancy. Because of this, it is dangerous to consume beer, wine, etc. at any stage of pregnancy. It has been proven that fetal exposure to alcohol can cause neurological impairments.

If you drink alcohol during the second trimester of a pregnancy, then there is a 68 percent chance that the baby will be smaller than average when it is born. There is also a higher chance that there will be abnormal brain development, difficulty regulating body temperature, and breathing trouble when it is born.

Drinking Alcohol During the Third Trimester

Just as it is not safe to drink during the first or second trimester, it is also not safe to drink during the third trimester. You should avoid alcohol during all three of your trimesters. Even if you are drinking just a bit of alcohol during your third trimester, you could create an increased risk for premature delivery, and you could also cause severe damage to the baby. It is during the third trimester that the baby’s lungs develop. The baby’s spinal cord is also still growing during this time. If you drink a lot during this time, you can cause premature delivery, or you could cause harm to the baby.

How to Stay Away from Alcohol During Pregnancy

As soon as you realize that you are pregnant, you should stop consuming alcohol. If you are someone who likes to drink a lot, then you should remove all of the alcohol from your home to prevent temptation. You can give it away to friends, flush it down the toilet, or throw it in the trash. Whatever it takes, do it.

You should also avoid bars or other tempting environments while you are pregnant. This is because you don’t want to let temptation get the best of you and end up giving your permanent baby damage just because you put yourself in a tempting environment.

Avoiding people who tempt you to drink is another key way to alcohol rehabilitation. So, if you know that being around certain people will make you more likely to drink, then avoid those people. You can also get professional help and alcoholism treatments from a medical professional or treatment center if you feel like you are going to fail or that you need help.

If you want to have a healthy baby, then you need to not drink during pregnancy. It is that simple. The more that you drink while pregnant, the higher the risk is of harming your baby. Severe defects can result if you drink during pregnancy. These defects can affect the entire life of your child.

Getting treatment can be highly effective, and it can prevent you from causing serious and permanent harm to your child. Alcohol and pregnancy do not mix well. You need to abstain from alcohol while you are carrying. Otherwise, you will almost certainly regret it. Alcohol outpatient treatment is available even for the pregnant addicts.


Marixie Ann Manarang-Obsioma

Content Writer

Marixie Ann Manarang-Obsioma is a licensed Medical Technologist (Medical Laboratory Science) and an undergraduate of Doctor of Medicine (MD). She took her Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Technology at Angeles University Foundation and graduated with flying colors.

The combination of having a good medical background, being a mom, and wanting to help people, especially the elderly has cultivated her passion for working in remote areas with love and compassion.
Marixie likes to travel, read, and watch movies.

Medical review by Brian Obodeze

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