Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can harm your baby

March 17, 2020

Pregnancy will change your life in many ways. For example, when you become pregnant, what you drink, eat and breathe may change because certain things can affect your baby.

This includes drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol can cause problems for your baby at any time during your pregnancy, even before you know you’re pregnant. It makes your baby more likely to be born prematurely, have birth defects and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

How can alcohol affect your baby?

Alcohol includes wine, wine coolers, beer and liquor. When you drink alcohol during pregnancy, the alcohol in your blood passes through the placenta and the umbilical cord to your baby. The placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases your baby’s chances of having these problems:

  • Premature birth. This is when your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies may have serious health problems at birth and later in life.
  • Brain damage and problems with growth and development.
  • Birth defects, like heart defects, hearing problems or vision problems. Birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part of the body. They may affect how the body looks, works or both.
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs), including fetal alcohol syndrome. Up to 1 in 20 children (about 5 percent) in the United States may have FASDs. FASDs may cause problems for your baby at birth and later in life.
  • Low birthweight. This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

How does FASD affect babies?

Babies with FASDs might have:

  • Distinct facial features. These include small eyes and a thin upper lip. Also, instead of a ridge or groove between the nose and upper lip, the skin there may be smooth. 
  • Growth problems during pregnancy, after birth or both. Your baby may be smaller in size and may weigh less than a baby of the same age. Babies with FAS usually don’t catch up on growth as they get older.
  • Vision problems, hearing problems or problems with the central nervous system.
  • Sleep and sucking problems
  • Later in life, problems in school and getting along with others. Children with FAS may have intellectual and developmental disabilities, including learning problems, poor memory, trouble paying attention and communication and behavior problems.
  • Issues with their bones
  • A congenital heart defect, like a hole in the heart called atrial septal defect or ventricular septal defect, depending on where the hole is. Congenital means your baby is born with a heart defect.
  • Kidney issues

There is no cure for FASDs. If your baby has an FASD, he may need specialist health care providers.

Tips for quitting alcohol

Some women may drink alcohol during pregnancy and have babies who seem healthy. Some women may have very little alcohol during pregnancy and have babies with serious health conditions. Every pregnancy and every woman is different.

If you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant, don’t drink alcohol. Here are some tips:

  • Talk to your health care provider about alcohol treatment programs.
  • Tell your partner and your friends and family that you’re not drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Ask them to help and support you.
  • Get rid of all the alcohol in your home. 
  • Stay away from situations or places where you usually drink, like parties or bars.
  • Plan to drink other things, like fruity drinks or water.
  • Join an Alcoholics Anonymous support group.  
  • Use SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator or call 1-800 662-4357.

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