Most women, while pregnant, want to do whatever they can to ensure that their baby will be born healthy. While the U.S. Surgeon General recommends that pregnant women consume absolutely no alcohol during pregnancy, the issue is complex. It is important to understand the risks associated with drinking during pregnancy.
Before Becoming Pregnant
For women who are planning to become pregnant or believe they may be pregnant, it is wise to refrain from drinking alcohol. The most serious risk to the fetus is from chronic drinking. It is unlikely that a single drink or two, consumed before you realize you are pregnant or shortly thereafter, will harm the baby.
Alcohol Passes to the Baby
According to the March of Dimes, the greatest risk of injury to the fetus is during the first three months of pregnancy, when all the baby’s organs develop. The baby is especially susceptible to toxic substances at this time, and alcohol is toxic. The alcohol passes from the mother’s bloodstream directly to the baby’s. While one drink may not seem like a large amount to an adult, it is a relatively much larger amount when passed on to a small, developing baby.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
While many women acknowledge that moderate to heavy drinking will hurt their baby by contributing to stillbirth, miscarriage, prematurity or physical or cognitive defects, there is some controversy about the effects of an occasional drink. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heavy drinking is likely to result in the birth of a baby with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD can range from the relatively mild, such as a mild learning disability, to the severe and result in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), where the baby has major physical problems, such as organ deformities, abnormal facial features, growth problems, central nervous system disorders and cognitive disabilities.
An Occasional Drink
The risk to the baby decreases as the amount of alcohol consumed by the mother decreases. Some people advocate that an occasional drink (a single glass of wine, for example) is unlikely to harm the developing baby. Because many factors affect the developing baby, including the parents’ health and medical history, diet and lifestyle, pollution and other environmental factors, the effect of occasional alcohol use by the mother may be mitigated by other factors. However, the American Pregnancy Association reports than any drink that contains any alcohol has potential to harm your unborn baby.
If stopping drinking is an issue and you are considering getting pregnant, it is important to discuss the problem with your medical professional. Several organizations and support groups are available to assist a women who wants to refrain from alcohol use during pregnancy.
- pregnancy image by AGphotographer from Fotolia.com