Drinking While Pregnant: What Do We Know?


For many women, as soon as they see a positive pregnancy test, their thoughts and questions turn to what is safe for them and for their babies during the 40 weeks of pregnancy. There is a lot of information out there as to what’s safe and what’s not, some of it conflicting and some of it firmly established. One such topic that we get a lot of questions about is how much alcohol is safe for a pregnant woman to drink. The research is a little blurry on what small amounts of alcohol will do to your unborn child, and as a result of that research, we aren’t able to recommend that any amount of alcohol is ok during pregnancy.

How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Your Baby’s Health?

In order to understand why a mother consuming alcohol directly affects the child she is carrying, you first need to understand how the mother and the fetus are connected. Shortly after conception, your placenta will begin to develop. Your placenta is a separate organ that develops within your uterus, attached to the fetus with the umbilical cord. This crucial organ serves to provide nutrients and oxygen to the baby while also removing waste. It remains attached to the wall of your uterus throughout the entire pregnancy, connected to the baby.

After the baby is delivered, the cord is cut, then the placenta is delivered as well. Since the placenta is an organ that is attached to the mother’s blood supply, alcohol consumption directly affects it. Unlike food, which is digested in your stomach and passed through your digestive tract, alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream through the lining of the stomach and small intestines and carried throughout the body.

How Much Alcohol Is Considered Too Much?

The studies and evidence that heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy can greatly affect your baby’s health are very definitive, although the research on moderate consumption is a little less clear. Level of consumption is generally defined as low consumption being one to four drinks a week, moderate being five to eight drinks a week, high being nine or more drinks in a week, and binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in a single occasion.

Why Alcohol Is Dangerous

The most commonly seen and understood problem that comes from a baby absorbing alcohol while pregnant is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), with estimates showing this birth defect in every two to seven births out of 1000. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can present in a multitude of ways including low birth weight, intellectual and developmental disabilities, physical development delays, and learning disorders.

While fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a lifelong health concern, there are other more short-term issues that can also arise. Drinking while pregnant can increase the risk of premature birth, which means delivery prior to 37 weeks, with 40 weeks being considered a full-term pregnancy. These pregnancies are more likely to result in miscarriage and stillbirths, in addition to full-term babies being born at a low birth weight.

How Do I Stop Drinking While Pregnant?

For some, it can seem like a daunting task to stop drinking as soon as they get pregnant. Especially if you’re a heavy drinker, stopping immediately can be a challenge. If you are worried about how you will adjust, it’s wise to make a plan with your family, friends, or partner to support you. You can always discuss your concerns with the team at The Woman’s Clinic and we can direct you to resources like Alcoholics Anonymous, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, or other substance abuse locations. If you’re a moderate drinker, you may be able to quit drinking on your own as well. Some women find it helpful to substitute alcohol with flavored sparkling water, juices, or fruity non-alcoholic cocktails, especially in social situations.

What Do I Do If I Find Out I’m Pregnant? 

Once you find out you’re pregnant, consult the comprehensive list of appointments on our website and schedule your first visit to The Woman’s Clinic. In addition to monitoring your pregnancy from the beginning through delivery, we are also able to counsel you on personal challenges and questions that may arise throughout your pregnancy.

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