Why Avoiding Alcohol Use During Pregnancy Matters
What We Know
No amount or type of alcohol is safe to drink while pregnant. Beer, wine, hard ciders and seltzers, hard liquor, and liqueurs all contain alcohol. Any amount of alcohol that you drink gets passed to the baby through the umbilical cord and can lead to miscarriage, birth defects, premature birth, and developmental disabilities.
Effects on the Mother
Alcohol affects women differently than men. Differences in body structure and chemistry cause most women to absorb more alcohol and take longer to metabolize it than men. This can make women more susceptible to the long-term negative health effects of alcohol such as liver disease, increased risk for mouth, throat, colon and breast cancers, and heart damage. Binge-drinking also increases a woman’s risk of sexual violence. (1)
Before Your Baby Is Born
Growth & Development
Babies exposed to alcohol do not grow well in their mother’s womb and alcohol exposure can keep your baby from being born healthy. Alcohol, at any time during pregnancy, can cause problems for the baby, including before a woman knows she is pregnant. Alcohol use in the first three months of pregnancy can cause the baby to have abnormal facial features. Problems with development, which may lead to low birthweight and irregular brain development, can result from alcohol use anytime throughout pregnancy.
After Your Baby Is Born
Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can harm your baby. Just like anything you eat or drink, alcohol is passed to your baby through your breastmilk at about the same levels that are present in your blood. The alcohol can linger in the baby’s body for several hours, which may hurt your baby’s brain development. Alcohol also flavors and changes the smell of your breastmilk, which can make latching difficult for the baby. At the very least, avoid breastfeeding for 3 hours after drinking.
Growth & Development
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the name given to a group of physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities of a newborn that are the direct result of drinking alcohol while pregnant.
Your baby may have the following characteristics:
- Abnormal facial features
- Small head and brain size
- Shorter-than-average height
- Low body weight
Your baby may also show the following behaviors:
- Poor coordination
- Difficulty paying attention
- Poor memory
- Learning disabilities
- Speech and language delays
- Poor decision-making skills
- Vision or hearing problems
- Problems with the heart, kidney, or bones (2)
Difficulty in School
Children with FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) can have both learning and behavior problems in school. Your child may have difficulty paying attention and show aggressive, impulsive, and hyperactive behavior. Your child may also struggle with making and keeping friends, which can lead to social isolation and feelings of frustration and loneliness. These challenges make succeeding in school difficult, which is hard for both the child and the parent or caregiver.
People whose mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy can have behavior and learning difficulties throughout life. They have an increased rate of mental health disorders such as ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), depression, and anxiety. As adults, they may struggle to keep a job, perform routine life tasks such as managing money, making and following a schedule, and other skills needed to live independently. (3)
It’s Never Too Late!
Talk to Someone
No matter how far along you are in your pregnancy, quitting drinking now will benefit both you and your baby. Contact your healthcare provider, local Alcoholics Anonymous, or local alcohol treatment center.
(1) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Excessive Alcohol Use Is a Risk for Women's Health. CDC.gov. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/womens-health.htm
(2) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Alcohol Use During Pregnancy. CDC.gov. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html
(3) National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Fetal Alcohol Exposure. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/fetal-alcohol-exposure