Is it safe to drink during pregnancy?

No Amount of Alcohol Safe During Pregnancy

"...there is no amount of alcohol that is safe during pregnancy."Opinions about whether it is safe to drink during pregnancy differ widely between cultures. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no amount of alcohol that is safe during pregnancy. All of the alcohol you drink travels into your blood stream and cycles through the baby as your blood moves through the placenta and umbilical cord. However, approximately one in 12 women in the U.S. report having at least one drink during pregnancy, and in many other cultures drinking small amounts during pregnancy is the norm. Research continues on the risks of drinking alcohol while pregnant, but the most prudent course is to avoid alcohol altogether during the nine months of gestation.

Dangers of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)

The primary danger of drinking alcohol during pregnancy is the possibility of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or FASDs. This set of disorders causes birth defects, including those affecting the brain and heart. Babies with FASDs also may have learning disabilities, growth disorders, and behavioral problems either at birth or later in life. It can also cause facial defects. According to the March of Dimes, approximately 40,000 babies are born with FASDs every year in the U.S. Abstaining from alcohol use during pregnancy prevents FASDs entirely, so most health organizations in the U.S. recommend that all pregnant women abstain. Binge drinking, which is defined as having more than four or five drinks at one time, and frequent drinking, defined as more than six drinks a week, are the most dangerous kinds of drinking during pregnancy and the most likely to cause FASDs. Heavy drinking and binge drinking are also more likely to cause its most severe form, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or FAS. However, lower amounts of alcohol can also cause FASDs, so drinking smaller amounts may still be dangerous for your baby. There is no treatment or cure for FASDs, and the effects will remain for the rest of the child's life.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol use during pregnancy also increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.

Even children who do not have FASDs may have other problems related to drinking during pregnancy. Problems with attention, speech, memory, and problem solving are common. Alcohol use during pregnancy also increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.

Drinking in early pregnancy may be of particular concern because this time period is when the major organs all form, and it is also a time when the woman is unlikely to even realize she is pregnant yet. Because of this, most major health organizations, including the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that women who are trying to get pregnant or who think they might be pregnant should avoid drinking just in case.

Even though most of the organs in the fetus are formed by the end of the first few months of pregnancy, this doesn't make alcohol use after that point safe. The fetal brain continues to form right up until birth, so alcohol at any point during the pregnancy can potentially do harm.

While no one disputes the negative effects of heavy drinking during pregnancy, evidence has emerged suggesting that even one drink a week during pregnancy can increase the risk of behavioral, emotional, and learning problems in the child. Light or moderate drinking during pregnancy may also lead to diminished growth in the child, including a smaller head size at age 14, which could indicate a smaller brain.

Best Option: Alcohol Abstinence During Pregnancy

Because of the high risk of birth defects and long-lasting problems in the child, abstinence during pregnancy is the best course of action. If you find that you cannot quit drinking or feel cravings for alcohol while pregnant, you may need to seek treatment to help ensure that your baby gets the best start in life. If you are planning to get pregnant, you should stop drinking before you conceive. If you cannot or will not stop drinking, you should avoid getting pregnant to prevent the severe effects that your drinking could have on an unborn child.

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