From the moment a woman becomes pregnant, her choices regarding alcohol consumption affect her unborn baby. Many say one glass of wine a day is healthy, but research has shown that during a pregnancy, even the slightest amount of alcohol can be dangerous. In fact, any alcohol, regardless of type, amount, or frequency, can lead to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
FASD is an educational term that includes the range of individuals from those who have the full syndrome to those who have only a few issues with learning and behavior and no facial or growth issues.
The disorders under the FASD umbrella are: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE), Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (PFAS), Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) and Central Nervous System (CNS).
The Truth About Alcohol and Pregancy
When you drink alcohol, so does your developing baby. Any amount of alcohol, even if it’s just one glass of wine, passes through the placenta from the mother to the growing baby.
Developing babies lack the ability to process, or metabolize, alcohol through the liver or other organs. They absorb all of the alcohol and have the same blood alcohol concentration as the mother.
Alcohol is toxic to a growing baby and can interfere with healthy development causing brain damage and other birth defects. It makes no difference if the alcohol is a liquor or distilled spirit such as vodka, or beer or wine. According to the CDC, as well as the U.S. Surgeon General, “There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink and no safe kind of alcohol.”
Alcohol-related birth defects can cause children to:
- be born with low birth weight
- experience problems eating, sleeping, seeing and hearing
- have trouble paying attention and learning in school
- require special attention from teachers
- have trouble getting along with others and controlling their behavior
There is no cure for FASD. It is a lifelong disability. The brain damage to an unborn baby that is caused when a mother drinks is permanent.
9 COMMON MYTHS ABOUT ALCOHOL & PREGNANCY
Myth 1: My doctor said it's fine to have a glass of wine or two while pregnant.
Your doctor is uninformed about the risk of prenatal alcohol exposure or is uncomfortable talking with his or her patients about the risks to your embryo or fetus associated with prenatal alcohol use. Unfortunately, many doctors are not properly educated about this issue. ACOG, The American Congress of OB/GYNs, advises women to not consume any alcohol while pregnant.
Myth 2: My friends or family members drank a bit and their kids are fine.
Not everyone who drinks while pregnant will have a child with measurable problems at birth, adolescence or even adulthood. The fact remains, however, that alcohol is toxic to the developing baby. Some children may have subtle damage from being exposed to alcohol that is not evident until school-age or later, such as problems with learning and behavior. In many of these cases, the problems are most often not linked to the prenatal alcohol exposure, inhibiting an accurate diagnoses and delaying appropriate intervention. According to Dr. Susan Astley Ph.D. and Dr. Therese Grant Ph.D., “Children exposed to and damaged by prenatal alcohol exposure look deceptively good in the preschool years. The full impact of their alcohol exposure will not be evident until their adolescent years.”
Myth 3: There is no evidence of any effects from just one drink.
Dr. Michael Charness of Harvard Medical School gives just one example: “We’ve been able to show very striking effects of alcohol on the L1 cell adhesion molecule, a critical molecule for development, at concentrations of alcohol that a woman would have in her blood after just one drink.”
Myth 4: A little bit of wine helps to reduce stress and can be healthy while pregnant.
The potential benefits of alcohol use during pregnancy to the mother are separate from and are outweighed by the potential risk to the mother’s developing child. The scientific and medical research is very clear: No published biomedical research has found any risk-free benefit of prenatal alcohol exposure for the embryo or fetus. Hundreds of papers have conclusively demonstrated that alcohol use, even in relatively small amounts, has the potential to cause both physical and functional damage to a growing baby.
Myth 5: On a holiday or special occasion, it’s perfectly fine to at least have a few celebratory sips.
The human body functions the same, whether it’s a holiday or not. Alcohol does not somehow lose its toxicity in utero because it happens to be New Year’s Eve, or because wine is consumed instead of whiskey, or because the drinker has an advanced academic degree or has a high socioeconomic status. There is no safe time to drink while pregnant. A few celebratory drinks can cause lifelong brain damage in a woman’s offspring.
Myth 6: One glass of wine is not enough for the baby to even be exposed to the alcohol.
Any alcohol consumed by a pregnant woman gets passed to the baby, even if it’s a small amount such as a few sips. There is no threshold of alcohol below which the baby is not exposed.
Myth 7: Drinking wine is better than using heroin or cocaine while pregnant.
Alcohol, including wine, causes far more damage to the developing baby than any other drug. The Institute of Medicine says, “Of all the substances of abuse (including cocaine, heroin, and marijuana), alcohol produces by far the most serious neurobehavioral effects in the fetus.” No type of alcohol or illicit drugs consumed during pregnancy are completely without risk.
Myth 8: You have to be an alcoholic to drink enough to cause real damage
The medical research is clear: Drinking at a level BELOW the threshold for alcoholism can still cause damage to the growing baby. There are many women who are not alcoholics who have children with measurable effects of alcohol exposure. Damage can be caused by a pregnant woman’s lack of education and awareness about the risks, not only as a result of her alcoholism.
Myth 9: The only damage alcohol can cause to a baby is physical deformities. If the baby looks normal, it must be fine.
The vast majority (over 85%) of children with damage from prenatal alcohol exposure have no physical birth defects, only mental and/or behavioral consequences. There are a wide range of effects including subtle behavioral problems that most often are never diagnosed as alcohol-related.
All women should be aware of what can happen to an unborn baby when a woman drinks alcohol while pregnant. Even if a woman is not expecting or pregnant, awareness is of utmost importance because she can share her knowledge of the dangers of alcohol consumption with friends, family and other women in the community. To learn more about raising awareness and serving as a champion for the Florida Fights FASD campaign, visit the Join the Fight page.
Wine During Pregancy
Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby
Recovering Hope Part 1
Recovering Hope Part 2
Recovering Hope Part 3
Recovering Hope Part 4
Birth Mother of a Child with FASD
Birth Mother of a Person with FASD