Alcohol During Pregnancy

Alcohol is a common staple in many households, with people imbibing for numerous reasons that range from relaxation to a means of escaping their problems. When a woman becomes pregnant, her ability to drink alcohol changes as it can negatively affect her unborn child. Although this is common knowledge, there are still women who continue to drink despite their pregnancies. For these women there may be an addiction that makes it near impossible to stop on their own, or they may not fully appreciate the damage that alcohol can cause their fetus. To help eliminate the avoidable problems that these children will ultimately face, it is crucial that mothers-to-be, their significant others, and friends and family fully understand how alcohol affects babies.

The Effects of Alcohol on Your Unborn Baby

When a woman drinks while she is pregnant, the alcohol that is in her blood enters the fetus’ system through the placenta. The amount of alcohol that the baby receives is the same as the amount that is in the blood. While an adult can metabolize this alcohol, a baby’s system is unable to easily or quickly do so. In addition, the fetus’ organs, such as his or her liver, are smaller and less able to handle the alcohol. As a result, this can damage cells in the child’s brain and/or spinal cord and result in premature birth, birth defects and other health problems.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

When an infant is exposed regularly to alcohol while in the womb, he or she may be born with a developmental disorder that is known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). This condition is characterized by characteristics such as mental retardation that ranges from mild to severe, a low birth rate, and decreased height through their formative years. Children born with FAS also commonly suffer from heart abnormalities as well as abnormalities of other organs. Additionally, the child will have certain characteristic facial abnormalities such as thinness of the upper lip, flattened cheeks, eyes that are small, and upper lids that droop. Fifty percent or more of the children born with this condition also suffer from problems with their vision. These visual problems may or may not be correctable. Although the condition is preventable, as it is caused by the mother’s choice to consume alcohol while pregnant, it is permanent.


When breastfeeding a baby, mothers can drink alcohol; however, there are a few rules and steps that should be followed and remembered to ensure that their babies are not harmed from its consumption. Mothers must always remember that the amount of alcohol that they consume does make its way into their breast milk. This means if they breastfeed while alcohol is still in their system, their baby will be exposed to that amount as well. To safely imbibe, a woman should pump and refrigerate her milk for feedings prior to drinking, or feed her baby first so that he or she is full. By doing this, she is ensuring that her child has safe, alcohol-free milk. Drinking should be kept to only a single drink occasionally and large consumptions should be avoided. Do not breastfeed for a minimum of two hours once alcohol has been consumed.

How to Get Help

Women who are alcoholics or who abuse alcohol are not always able to stop drinking on their own. When this is the case, they can get help to prevent them from drinking during their pregnancy. Women can start by speaking with their medical care providers about their concern or problems with alcohol. Family members, religious councilors or friends should also be made aware of alcohol concerns as they can provide support and encouragement during what can be a difficult period for an alcoholic. In severe cases, women suffering from alcoholism may need to seek help from treatment centers.

Additional Resources

Alcohol is not the only concern when it comes to what a mother puts into her body while pregnant. In addition to stopping the use of alcohol, women who are taking any form of drug should also discontinue. Cigarettes and illicit drug use can cause a myriad number of problems for an unborn child. Depending on the drug, the problems that they cause can affect how they develop, and can cause problems such as respiratory seizures and tremors, or could result in the premature death of one’s infant. Children of drug abusers may have health or developmental problems that last into adulthood. Smoking can result in respiratory problems and has been linked with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. For the safest pregnancy possible, women should consult their doctors about any prescription medications that they are currently taking and inform them of any illegal drugs that they have been using. Educating oneself on what to eat and not to eat is also important for the health of one’s baby.

By Ted Burgess