It’s no wonder that pregnant women are confused about whether or not alcohol is off-limits during pregnancy. The National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) warns that there is “No safe amount. No safe time. No safe alcohol. Period.”—a position echoed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in its 2015 clinical report. Nonetheless, some parents and health care providers want to speculate about “safe” levels and compare the risks of light, moderate, and heavy drinking.
What are the risks of drinking alcohol when pregnant?
The risks associated with consuming alcohol during pregnancy include:
- preterm birth
- low birth weight for baby
- language and speech delays in the child
- behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity
- fetal alcohol syndrome (characterized by physical defects, poor growth, heart defects, and central nervous system damage)
A 2015 review article acknowledged that while the studies “are not fully conclusive,” some suggest that even low or moderate “consumption of alcohol during pregnancy may adversely affect children’s intelligence quotient (IQ), mental health, memory and verbal of visual performance.”
Another study which included nearly 1,000 mothers and their babies and specifically looked at alcohol exposure during certain periods of pregnancy found a fetus’s alcohol exposure — even small amounts — during the second half of the first trimester was most strongly associated with the development of fetal alcohol syndrome. However, the study concluded that women who are pregnant and those who may become pregnant should abstain from alcohol altogether.
Perhaps most important to pregnant women making decisions about consuming alcohol, studies have often shown a dose-response effect. This review and meta analysis suggests more research to reach consensus on what "light consumption" of alcohol means. Until then, expectant mothers should know the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome and adverse neurological effects increases as the number of drinks consumed daily—or even during a single occasion—go up.
What are some alternatives to alcohol during pregnancy?
If you drink to relax, try other techniques like warm baths, massages, meditation, and/or acupuncture. If you drink out of habit, try non-alcoholic beverages or “mocktails.”