Is It Okay To Drink Alcohol During Pregnancy?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that any amount and form of drinking alcohol during pregnancy poses a risk to the baby and often to the person carrying the fetus as well. Choosing to drink wine, beer, hard seltzers, cocktails, or any substance with alcohol in it can negatively affect a developing fetus.

Currently, there is no known safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy. This is because every person and fetus has a unique set of genetic and environmental predispositions (for example, rate of alcohol metabolism) that can influence how much they are affected by alcohol consumption.

That is, the same amount of alcohol in one person or during one pregnancy may cause defects in a fetus, while it may have no health effects in a second pregnancy or for another person. Therefore, researchers and physicians alike recommend that those who are pregnant or may become pregnant (meaning they are sexually active but not using a form of birth prevention) should avoid alcohol completely.

Why Is Alcohol Dangerous During Pregnancy?

When someone is pregnant, components of most of what they eat and drink are transferred to the baby through the umbilical cord. While not every medication can travel across the placenta to the baby, alcohol can and may affect the baby’s healthy development. The dangers of alcohol during pregnancy are varied and may be different depending on how much is consumed, how often, and the individual genetics of each person and fetus.

Risks Involved With Drinking During Pregnancy

If someone is struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), continuing without treatment puts them at risk for several immediate and long-term health issues. Drinking excessively, which includes both binge drinking and heavy drinking, is well-known to put both the person carrying the fetus and the fetus at increased risk for the following short- and long-term health problems:

These health problems pose a risk to both the parent and fetus during and after pregnancy. However, if they stop drinking at any point in the pregnancy, they can reduce the risk or worsening of any developmental issues that could affect the baby.

How Does Alcohol Affect A Fetus?

Alcohol affects the developing baby by traveling through the umbilical cord and into the baby’s body. It can cause physical, behavioral, and intellectual problems that may last for life. Any child that suffers from these disabilities from alcohol exposure during pregnancy could be diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most severe condition on the spectrum, but other disabilities known as alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders (ARNDs) and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBDs) may also occur.

All disabilities related to alcohol exposure during birth are irreversible, and while treatment is available, there is no cure. Some disabilities may be apparent at birth, while others may only become noticeable when the child shows delays in later childhood. Additionally, exposure to alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which may occur anytime during the baby’s first year of life.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a diagnosis that falls on the most involved end of the FASDs. Symptoms include problems with the central nervous system (CNS), characteristic facial features, and growth problems. Alcohol’s interference with brain development may lead to difficulties with learning, memory, attention span, clear communication, visual perception, or hearing. Not every person with FAS experiences the same problems or to the same degree, but they often lead to difficulties in school and building relationships.

Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)

Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder refers to a range of intellectual disabilities, behavior problems, and learning difficulties that can result from alcohol exposure during pregnancy. These difficulties may range from mild to severe, but children with ARND often struggle in school. Common cognitive problems in ARND include math difficulties, memory impairment, decreased attention span, compromised judgment, and poor impulse control.

Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)

Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD) refer to a range of physical problems with development that may occur from prenatal alcohol exposure. Common manifestations include heart, kidney, bone, or hearing problems. Some children may have developmental issues in all categories, while others may only have one or two conditions.

Detoxing From Alcohol While Pregnant

Detoxing from alcohol is a necessary step in treating alcohol addiction; however, it can cause significant and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms that are dangerous for both the fetus and the person who is detoxing. Undergoing medical detox with professional support can provide medication and support to minimize symptoms and get both parties through detox safely. Overall, untreated detox may cause high levels of stress for the fetus that could affect its well-being, including preterm birth and lower-than-normal birth weight.

Examples of alcohol withdrawal symptoms that may be dangerous include:

  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Significant changes in heart rate
  • Delirium
  • Severe fever
  • Confusion or hallucinations

Special care must be taken when these symptoms are combined with pregnancy.

Attending Rehab While Pregnant

Alcohol use disorder treatment while pregnant is similar to treatment undergone by patients who are not pregnant.

Treatment for alcohol addiction while pregnant is likely to include behavioral therapy, including counseling, individual or group therapy, and other psychosocial support. Some medications can treat AUD, but these medications are not well-studied in pregnant patients, and the potential effects on the fetus are not well-known. However, if a medication is necessary to improve maternal health and helps significantly reduce or abstain from alcohol, it may still be beneficial to take.

Each person’s needs and the benefits of any given treatment are assessed individually. What works best for one pregnant person in rehab may not be the best course of action for another, so it’s important to discuss your options with your chosen center.

How To Avoid Alcohol During Pregnancy

Many people view pregnancy as an opportunity to get clean, which could be the case for you.

  • At home, you can talk to your family or friends about your desire to stop drinking. Gather your support people and see if they can help you remove the alcohol in your home and provide accountability to help you avoid alcohol.
  • Join a support group, like a local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) chapter, to receive support and encouragement from people who may have experienced similar circumstances.
  • Treatment facilities can help those who are pregnant overcome AUD. Some treatment centers give priority to pregnant people, knowing that there is a greater benefit to the fetus if the patient stops drinking earlier in their pregnancy.

If you or a loved one are struggling to avoid using alcohol during pregnancy, remember that you are not alone, and help is available.

Get Help for Alcohol Addiction While Pregnant Today

If you are pregnant and struggling with alcohol use, it is never too late to get help. Treatment programs are able to support you in achieving and maintaining sobriety for the health of you and your baby. Contact a treatment provider today to explore your options.