Dangers of Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant

Prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol is the main cause of preventable birth defects in the United States. While some believe there is a “safe” amount of alcohol to consume when pregnant, the widespread medical recommendation is that women abstain from drinking altogether while pregnant.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that one in 10 pregnant women, regardless of background or demographic, admit to consuming alcohol, and one-third of those women acknowledge that they binge drink. However, drinking while pregnant can cause a number of problems for both the mother and baby.

How Does Alcohol Affect Pregnancy?

Pregnant woman with doctor

Alcohol consumption can have a detrimental impact on all stages of pregnancy. For women who are trying to get pregnant some studies have shown that binge drinking can make it problematic to conceive — and moderate-to-heavy drinking can increase conception challenges for couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). Additionally, according to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology drinking also increases the risk of miscarriage — even at low consumption rates.

If both partners drink regularly, it can make it even more difficult to get pregnant. Men who are moderate-to-heavy drinkers have lower sperm counts, motility, and malformed sperm, as well as other health issues that can impact their fertility.

When an expectant mother consumes alcohol, it travels from her bloodstream through the placenta and umbilical cord to the baby. Fetuses are still developing their livers while in utero, so their bodies cannot process alcohol like an adult’s liver can. Even after the alcohol leaves the fetal blood, it can linger in the amniotic fluid. Alcohol can lower the baby’s blood sugar, insulin levels, and thyroid levels. These health problems can lead to low birthweight, birth defects, premature birth, and even stillbirth.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Women who drink alcohol while pregnant increase the chances that their child will be born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children with fetal alcohol syndrome can experience the following issues:

  • Poor growth: Low birth weight can set the stage for a lifelong struggle for some babies with fetal alcohol syndrome. Throughout their lives, they may struggle to grow or gain weight. In addition, people born with fetal alcohol syndrome sometimes have smaller head sizes than their peers.
  • Birth defects: Babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome may have abnormal facial features, vision and hearing issues, and problems related to the heart, kidneys, or bones.
  • Seizures and other neurological problems: Balance and coordination can be problematic for people with fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • Behavioral issues: Babies may be jittery and have trouble sleeping. As they get older, kids and teens with fetal alcohol syndrome may struggle socially and have a range of learning and behavioral problems. Some have trouble relating to others, social problems and making friends.
  • Learning difficulties: Some people with fetal alcohol syndrome struggle with problem-solving skills. Memory issues can also make learning difficult.
  • Delayed development: Many children with fetal alcohol syndrome are late at reaching milestones, like walking, talking and reading.

A woman’s decision to drink while pregnant can result in a lifetime of negative results for the child. Struggles related to fetal alcohol exposure can continue long into adulthood. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, adults exposed to alcohol in the womb may suffer from mental health disorders and have difficulty being self-sufficient throughout life.

How Does Alcohol Affect a Pregnant Mother?

It is not just the fetus that is in danger when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol. Drinking while pregnant is risky for the mother too. Doctors advise against drinking for all pregnant women, and the risks are higher for those with liver problems.

Women who drink while pregnant may experience:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Early labor.
  • Anemic disorders.

In addition, a woman’s immune system is altered during pregnancy to allow for the presence of the fetus. While the majority of women experience healthy pregnancies, the changes to the immune system do make pregnant women more susceptible to certain infections and illnesses. Drinking alcohol regularly also lowers immunity, and this can result in the pregnant woman who drink succumbing to a variety of health issues. All of these issues put more pressure on the pregnancy and increase the risks of complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Many women who drink while pregnant have underlying issues they may be self-medicating with alcohol. Expectant mothers with depression or anxiety sometimes turn to alcohol for relief from the symptoms of their mental health disorder.

Pregnant or not, alcohol dependency has serious, dangerous effects on a person’s life. Heart disease, various types of cancer, liver damage, and nerve damage are just some of the potential long-term health effects of alcohol dependency. The chances of experiencing these effects, and the potential for greater severity, are enhanced during pregnancy.

In addition to all the health risks associated with drinking during pregnancy, an alcohol use disorder negatively effects virtually every aspect of life. Individuals may suffer from financial issues, career troubles, and relationship problems; the damage is far-reaching and only compounded by pregnancy.

Help for Pregnant Women with Addiction to Alcohol

Because of the dangers associated with drinking while pregnant, it is critical for expectant mothers to seek treatment if they are struggling with alcohol addiction. The earlier an expectant mother gets help for her alcohol dependency, the better. If she gets sober early in the first trimester, there is a good chance the baby will be born healthy.

Since pregnancy is a medical condition that complicates addiction treatment, it’s important to seek out a rehabilitation program that is equipped to treat expectant mothers. In addition to comprehensive addiction treatment, pregnant clients should be monitored around the clock to ensure their safety and stability during withdrawal and beyond. Pregnant women should never attempt to detox on their own and should talk to their doctor or seek out professional addiction treatment.

If you’re struggling with addiction to alcohol and want to learn more information about alcohol rehab programs,  your treatment options, and how to start admissions, contact our helpful and knowledgeable admissions navigators at .


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