Drinking alcohol during pregnancy poses a potentially serious risk to the unborn baby. The standard advice is for people to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.

Experts advise that drinking any amount of alcohol while pregnant can pose a severe health risk to the fetus, causing developmental and social issues.

However, studies suggest that 10.2% of people in the United States drink alcohol during pregnancy, and 3.1% binge drink while pregnant. Additionally, over 6% of those who drank alcohol before being pregnant did not change their alcohol intake when they found out.

This article discusses alcohol and pregnancy. It looks at whether it is safe to drink alcohol during pregnancy and how it affects the unborn baby. It also briefly explains fetal alcohol syndrome.

Shadow of a wine glassShare on Pinterest
Olga Shumytskaya/Getty Images

Experts state that people should avoid alcohol when pregnant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that there is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. It notes that all types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all spirits, wines, and beer.

Other leading experts, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, also recommend avoiding alcohol completely during pregnancy.

The CDC explains that during pregnancy, alcohol in the blood passes to the fetus through the umbilical cord, crossing the placenta.

Research suggests that 2 hours after drinking, alcohol levels in the fetus are similar to the person who ingested it.

This research also states that consuming alcohol during pregnancy is a preventable cause of adverse effects on unborn fetuses in the United States. Negative effects of alcohol in pregnancy include:

Studies indicate that both binge drinking and chronic drinking present risks to the fetus. The effects of binge drinking depend on whether it occurs during a critical stage of organ formation.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a group of conditions that can occur in an infant who received exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. The effects can range from mild to severe, and doctors may diagnose the following:

  • fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
  • alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder
  • alcohol-related congenital disabilities

Studies indicate that FASD can have lifelong implications and is irreversible. However, people can avoid it by abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy.

Fetal alcohol syndrome

FAS represents the most involved part of the FASD spectrum. Studies suggest FAS affects 7.7 children per 1,000 individuals. Symptoms may include:

  • growth problems
  • atypical facial features
  • difficulties with learning, attention, communication, and memory
  • problems with vision and hearing
  • abnormalities with the central nervous system

Additionally, children with FAS may often have trouble mixing socially in school or similar settings.

The following are answers to common questions about alcohol and pregnancy.

Can a person drink alcohol if they wish to nurse?

The CDC suggests that up to 1 standard drink per day is not known to harm the infant, especially if a person waits at least 2 hours before nursing. However, higher alcohol levels can interfere with the letdown reflex that ejects milk and may cause the child to have sleep issues.

How much alcohol will harm the fetus?

The CDC advises that there is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy and that individuals need to avoid it altogether.

Binge drinking poses an increased risk to the developing fetus. However, studies also indicate that chronic drinking also poses a serious risk.

What happens if you drank and did not know you were pregnant?

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, if a person drinks before they know they are pregnant, the risk to the fetus is generally small. However, the organization also recommends discussing this with a healthcare professional and stopping drinking.

It is unsafe for people to consume any amount of alcohol during pregnancy. This includes all beers, wines, and spirits.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or fetal alcohol syndrome, a severe, irreversible developmental condition.

People who find out they are pregnant and may have drunk alcohol while being pregnant need to stop immediately. They also need to consult a healthcare professional about a prenatal checkup.

People who are nursing can speak with a healthcare professional about how much alcohol is safe to drink.