Is drinking while pregnant safe? Before you toast your pregnancy with a sip of champagne, consider what we do and don’t know about the risks of alcohol consumption in pregnancy.
Drinking While Pregnant: Risks of Alcohol
Alcohol is a known teratogen. This means that it can cause birth defects in a developing fetus, including a set of disorders known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (1,4). Babies experience altered facial features, brain alterations, and a series of psychological deficits, including:
- Lower IQ
- Difficulty processing words
- Learning & memory problems
- Behavioral problems
Drinking While Pregnant: Heavy Drinking
Heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy can take the form of binge drinking as well as continuous exposure. Heavy drinking is known to increase the risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, and small-for-gestational age (2). It is also more likely to lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. It is generally accepted that the more you drink, the greater the risk to your baby (3).
Drinking While Pregnant: Light Drinking
Many studies explore the risks of drinking during pregnancy. However, very few have researched whether or not light drinking, up to 32g/week, is safe. Those that did have found no convincing evidence that light alcohol consumption poses serious risk. Yet, there is no clear evidence to help draw the line between a safe level of alcohol and one that can cause birth defects (2). This lack of research and the uncertainty around it makes even light drinking risky to your baby.
Drinking While Pregnant: Better Safe Than Sorry
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is avoidable and poses significant risk to your baby. In light of the medical evidence we do have, it’s safest for your baby if you completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy (1). Long story short, don’t drink if you’re pregnant. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
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(1) Mukherjee, R. A. S., Hollins, S., & Turk, J. (2006). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: an overview. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99(6), 298–302.
(2) , et al. (2017). Low alcohol consumption and pregnancy and childhood outcomes: time to change guidelines indicating apparently ‘safe’ levels of alcohol during pregnancy? A systematic review and meta-analyses.
(3) National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. (2016). New recommended drinking guidelines recommended by NICE. Retrieved from https://www.nice.org.uk/news/article/new-recommended-drinking-guidelines-welcomed-by-nice
(4) Mattson, S.N., Schoenfeld, A.M., Riley, E.P. (2001). Teratogenic effects of alcohol on brain and behavior. Alcohol Res Health. 25(3): 185-91.