The Dangers of Drinking While Pregnant

drinking while pregnantAlcoholism and its many negative consequences wreak havoc on addicts and their families every day. Many alcoholics and their families don’t realize the particular dangers that come with consuming any amount of alcohol while pregnant. If you or a loved one is addicted to alcohol and is also pregnant, it is vital to learn the facts and seek help when necessary.

A Woman’s Body During Pregnancy

Pregnancy causes a woman’s body to undergo many complex changes. There are certain vitamins and minerals that pregnant women need, such as extra folic acid and calcium. Proper nutrition has never been more important. The growth and development of the fetus depends on the health of the mother.

Pregnant women have a lot to consider as they learn to properly nourish themselves and the developing fetus. They must learn about which foods to avoid, such as fish that is high in mercury and cold deli meats. Pregnant women should also discover which supplements are right for them during pregnancy, such as a prenatal vitamin prescribed by a health care professional. There are many other things to consider as well. For example, expecting mothers should learn about how much exercise is safe for their situation.

As women learn about how to properly nourish themselves during pregnancy, questions may arise about how much alcohol, if any, is safe. Many pregnant women want to know, “Can I drink if I’m pregnant?”

The simple truth is that there is no room for alcohol in a healthy pregnancy. When you drink alcohol, so does your developing baby. Alcohol has been proven to come with negative consequences for the fetus, all of which range in severity but can include facial deformities and behavioral issues.

Is It Safe to Drink While Pregnant?


No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy, and the only safe option is sobriety. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause harm to the developing fetus, as the alcohol can pass through the mother’s blood and enter the bloodstream of the fetus via the umbilical cord.

By looking at the possible effects of drinking while pregnant, it becomes very clear that expecting women should practice sobriety if they want the greatest chance of experiencing a healthy pregnancy.

Alcohol During Pregnancy Can Cause Miscarriage, Stillbirth or Preterm Labor

Miscarriage, stillbirth and preterm labor are fears that many women have during pregnancy, even if the pregnancy is low risk and the mother is practicing a healthy, sober lifestyle. These fears become a possibility when alcohol is involved in pregnancy. Consider the following:

  • Miscarriage. One study from Denmark suggests a relationship between miscarriage in the first four months of pregnancy and having two drinks per week. This implies that any amount – even what many consider a small amount – of alcohol is dangerous.
  • Stillbirth. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who engaged in moderate alcohol use had two to three times increased risk of a stillbirth or infant death within the first year.
  • Preterm labor. There have been quite a few studies on preterm labor and the intake of alcohol during pregnancy. One study on 40,000 pregnant women found that seven or more drinks per week throughout pregnancy came with an increased risk of preterm labor. Babies who are born early have a greater risk of experiencing developmental delays, neurological complications or even death.

Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy Can Cause Birth Defects

Alcohol is known to cause many problems in pregnancy, which include a number of different birth defects. Disabilities caused by fetal alcohol exposure are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or FASDs. The following list outlines possible behaviors and characteristics of children with FASDs:


  • Smaller than normal head size
  • Shorter than average height
  • Poor coordination
  • Learning disabilities
  • Heart, kidney or bone issues
  • Hearing problems
  • Decreased muscle tone
  • Vision problems
  • Low body weight
  • Problems with attention span
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor memory
  • Speech delays and/or language problems
  • Low IQ or intellectual ability
  • Sleep issues
  • Feeding issues as an infant
  • Poor critical thinking, reasoning or judgment
  • Problems in school (math in particular)

When learning about NASDs, it’s important to recognize the other terms commonly used to describe it. Consider the following terms to increase your understanding of the characteristics associated with NASDs:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The term fetal alcohol syndrome is used to describe the severe end of NASDs. The most severe outcome from drinking during pregnancy is fetal death, but there are other serious outcomes which are blanketed under the term FAS. These include problems with the central nervous system and atypical facial features. Various types and combinations of cognitive, physical and behavioral abnormalities are included in the term FAS.
  • Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND). People with ARND were born to mothers who drank alcohol during pregnancy and then experienced developmental delays or intellectual disabilities.
  • Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD). Babies born with ARBD can have problems with their bones, heart, kidneys, auditory function or more.
  • Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE). The term FAE was replaced by ARND and ARBD in 1996, but it’s still used today and might be mentioned in various studies prior to that year.

It’s crucial to remember that there is no cure for NASDs. Besides the many possible birth defects that can come as a result of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, there are particular problems with growth that will present themselves in utero and continue as the infant ages into childhood.

Alcohol During Pregnancy May Cause Growth Problems

The detrimental effects of alcohol during pregnancy begin to occur even before the baby is born. As a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, the development and growth of the fetus can be hindered. Not growing as it should, the fetus is at a higher risk of being born too soon, or being born at a low birth weight.

A baby born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces is considered to be of a low birth weight. Infants of low birth weight are at risk for a variety of other dangerous conditions, such as the following:

  • Interventricular hemorrhage (IVH). Also known as bleeding in the brain, IVH typically occurs within the first three days of life. Depending on the severity of the brain bleed, the baby may need to have tubes inserted into his or her brain to drain the fluid.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). If your baby is born before 34 weeks of pregnancy, he or she could experience RDS. This means that your baby is lacking a protein known as surfactant, and his or her lungs aren’t developed enough to function on their own. Babies with RDS need to be treated with surfactant to keep their lungs from collapsing.
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). NEC is a problem with the infant’s intestines, causing feeding problems. Sometimes surgery is needed to remove damaged parts of the intestines. NEC usually occurs two to three weeks after birth, or sometimes even later.
  • Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Usually affecting babies born before 32 weeks, ROP causes problems with blood vessels in the eye. Sometimes surgery is needed to avoid vision loss.
  • Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). PDA is a heart problem that is common in preterm babies. An artery, the ductus arteriosus, doesn’t close properly in preterm babies with PDA. This can lead to heart failure. If drugs don’t work to close the artery, heart surgery may be required.

Even as preterm and low birth weight babies grow and develop, they can experience growth delays and lifelong consequences from the alcohol their mother consumed during pregnancy. In fact, even as adults, babies born at a low birth weight are more likely to struggle with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or obesity.

In addition to growth problems, babies born to mothers who drank alcohol during pregnancy may exhibit noticeable features that may become more noticeable with time.


Babies Born From Alcoholic Mothers May Have Distinctive Facial Features

Slightly deformed and uncharacteristic facial features can be a direct result of consuming alcohol during pregnancy. These abnormal facial features may look different in each child, but small eyes and thin lips are common. Also common are the following slightly deformed facial characteristics:

  • Upturned noses (nostrils forward instead of downward)
  • Epicanthic folds (skin of the upper eyelid covering the inner corner of the eye)
  • Flat nasal bridges
  • A smooth philtrum under the nose
  • Small palpebral fissures (opening between the eye lids)
  • A railroad track shape to the edge of the outer ear

Besides the detriment that can come as a result of growing up with facial abnormalities, the children of mothers who abused alcohol during pregnancy can also struggle with a number of different behavioral issues.

Alcohol and Pregnancy Can Lead to Future Behavioral and Learning Problems

Children born to a mother who drank alcohol during pregnancy are at an increased risk to display a variety of behavioral problems and struggle with learning disorders, such as the following:

  • Intellectual disability. Defined as significant limitations of intellectual functioning, intellectual disability affects a variety of everyday skills. Children born to a mother who consumed alcohol during pregnancy may struggle with problem solving and reasoning abilities. Furthermore, problems with adaptive behaviors can include difficulties with socialization.
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People affected with ADD and ADHD have problems focusing. In addition, these disorders typically indicate some form of compulsive behavior. It is estimated that about three to five percent of children have ADHD, and drinking while pregnant can increase the risk of an infant developing ADHD.

It is true that behavioral problems will vary with the individual, and the same is true for the many different learning disabilities that can be a result of alcohol abuse during pregnancy. A person affected by FASDs can exhibit a mix of the many possible characteristics and behavioral traits, and many of them can be a direct result of the mother consuming alcohol during pregnancy.

baby's hand within mothers

A Recap About the Dangers of Drinking While Pregnant

No amount of alcohol is a safe amount if you want to experience a healthy pregnancy. As a recap, let’s answer a few common questions about alcohol and pregnancy:

  • Can I drink if I’m pregnant? No, not if you want the best shot at a healthy pregnancy – and a healthy baby. If you want to experience a healthy pregnancy, it is vital that you remain sober. There are many negative effects of alcohol during pregnancy, such as an increased risk of stillbirth, preterm labor, birth defects and more.
  • Is it safe to drink while pregnant? There is no amount of alcohol that has been proven to be safe during pregnancy. Sobriety is the only way to ensure you and your baby doesn’t experience any of alcohol’s harmful effects during pregnancy.
  • Can’t I just drink a little during pregnancy? No. Studies show that even as little as two drinks every week can increase your risk of miscarriage. Plus, there is still much to be learned about the relationship between alcohol and pregnancy. It is possible that even one drink can affect a developing embryo or fetus. Although much is still unknown and has yet to be studied, we do know that alcohol comes with plenty of increased risks. The only way to avoid the negative effects of drinking while pregnant is to refrain from alcohol completely.
  • What should I do if I’m an alcoholic and pregnant? The most important thing is that you recognize your problem and seek help. There is no shame in admitting your problem, only praise for recognizing the direness of the situation and having the desire to get well. There are many resources available to you, and professionals will treat you with compassion and empathy as you work to get sober for yourself and your baby. There is a lot of guilt that comes with admitting that you’re pregnant and also using alcohol, but there is a chance of redemption as you recognize your problem and learn to love being sober.
  • How can I help a loved one who is drinking while pregnant? Make it clear that you do not support or condone alcohol during pregnancy, but that you support her getting help for her problem. Contact a treatment center such as 12 Keys Rehab that offers effective and compassionate rehabilitation.

Trust 12 Keys Rehab Services

Pregnancy is a special time in a woman’s life. As the body changes to accommodate the growth and development of the baby, there is no better time for personal, emotional and spiritual growth as well. Getting sober is a vital component of a healthy pregnancy, so there is no better time to seek help. There are options available to women who need help detoxing from alcohol during pregnancy, and seeking help should be a priority for the health of the mother and the developing baby.

12 Keys Rehab offers holistic alcohol rehab and a comfortable and empathetic atmosphere to help you work toward discovering your new and sober life. The sincere testimonials from those who have experienced the 12 Keys model speak for themselves.

If you or a loved one is drinking alcohol during pregnancy, consider contacting 12 Keys Rehab for more information about our practical approach to sobriety.

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