Effects of Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy

Alcohol exposure during pregnancy is one of the leading preventable causes of neurodevelopmental disorders and birth defects in the United States.1 Women are encouraged not to drink alcohol during pregnancy because it is associated with several risks to both mother and fetus.2,3

However, stopping drinking is not always an easy thing to do. Effective treatment is available to stop alcohol use during pregnancy, and it is never too late to get help.2 This page will cover the effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, including effects on the baby as well as the pregnant mother, and how to find treatment without judgment.

Is Any Alcohol Safe During Pregnancy?

No, there is no safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy, and this includes all types of alcohol—beer, wine, and liquor.2 Drinking during pregnancy puts the baby at risk for lifelong problems, including mental, physical, and behavioral health issues.1,2 These risks are in addition to the direct adverse health effects of drinking faced by the mother.3

Despite the risks, about 1 in 10 pregnant women in the U.S. report current use of alcohol.1 However, it isn’t too late to stop alcohol use, even if drinking has occurred during pregnancy.1,2  

The harmful effects of alcohol on a baby are preventable; engaging with professional healthcare efforts can help decrease some of these risks, while ensuring that you and your baby are taken care of as early as possible.1,2

How Does Drinking Affect the Baby?

Alcohol use during pregnancy is a leading cause of birth defects.1 Consuming alcohol during pregnancy likely exposes the fetus to higher concentrations of alcohol and its metabolites than the pregnant mother due to their accumulation in the amniotic fluid and the reduced fetal capacity to metabolize them.4

Drinking at any point during a pregnancy can cause harm to the fetus. Research suggests that approximately half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, increasing the risk for prenatal alcohol exposure.1

Potential effects on the baby associated with a mother drinking alcohol while pregnant include:5,6

  • Fetal structural anomalies, including heart, kidney, and craniofacial development issues.
  • Preterm labor.
  • Intrauterine growth restriction.
  • Increased risk of stillbirth.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), which includes fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a lifelong condition that develops due to in utero exposure to alcohol.5,6

Problems associated with the development of FAS include:5

  • Central nervous system abnormalities.
  • Problems with growth.
  • Facial feature abnormalities.
  • Difficulties with learning, attention span, memory, vision, hearing, or communication.

This condition is one of the most severe results of drinking during pregnancy and it falls at the most involved end of the FASD spectrum.5

FASD is a range of abnormalities in cognitive, physical, and behavioral functioning.1 Heavy drinking is linked to an increased risk of developing FASD.1

How Does Alcohol Affect a Pregnant Mother?

Drinking during pregnancy can also adversely affect the mother’s health. Proper nutritional status is essential to a mother’s health as well as the development of a healthy baby, but it may be impaired in mothers who consume alcohol.7

Drinking alcohol while pregnant is also associated with an increased risk of:

  • Miscarriage.5
  • Altered fertility.5,8
  • Mental health problems.3
  • Domestic abuse or violence.3,8

Women who drink alcohol are more likely to develop sexually transmitted diseases, menstrual disorders, and several types of cancers.8

Those with a history of problematic alcohol use may also experience feelings of guilt and shame when unable to control their drinking during pregnancy despite wanting to quit to avoid affecting the developing fetus.5

It’s important to remember that specialized treatment support can help people struggling to quit drinking, even during pregnancy, as well as address a range of other health and social issues.5

Can You Drink While Trying to Conceive?

Experts advise that it is best to abstain from alcohol completely when trying to become pregnant because a woman may inadvertently expose the fetus to alcohol if they drink before knowing they are pregnant.2

The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that all women who are thinking about getting pregnant, might be pregnant, or are currently pregnant completely abstain from all alcohol use.1

Get Help to Stop Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant

Please know that it’s not too late and you do not have to quit drinking on your own. Support is available to help you stop drinking alcohol while pregnant.

There are many treatment options and resources for pregnant women, including supervised medical detox to ensure a safer, more comfortable alcohol withdrawal for both mother and baby.

Also, know that you are not alone in this struggle; other pregnant women have found themselves in a similar situation. It is possible to get effective treatment and improve the outcome of your baby’s health at birth.2,8

Recovery First and several other American Addiction Centers facilities accept pregnant women at the discretion of the medical director.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Florida

If you or someone you love needs help to stop drinking alcohol while pregnant, treatment is available. Recovery First Treatment Center provides alcohol addiction treatment in a compassionate, understanding atmosphere.

Our drug and alcohol rehab near Miami offers both inpatient and outpatient alcohol rehab programs. Experienced clinicians use evidence-based therapies and customize each person’s treatment plan to ensure individual needs are met.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
Recovery First is located in Hollywood, Florida, which is easily accessible from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Our small groups means you get more one-on-one support and make stronger connections with the community. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Florida's Atlantic coast or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.