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If you drink alcohol during pregnancy, it can cause serious health problems for your baby. Alcohol includes wine, wine coolers, beer, and spirits.
If you drink alcohol during pregnancy, the alcohol in your blood will quickly travel through the placenta and umbilical cord to your baby. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Drinking any amount of alcohol while pregnant can damage your baby's developing brain and other organs. No amount of alcohol has been shown to be safe during pregnancy.
There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol can cause problems for your baby anytime during pregnancy, even before you know you are pregnant. You can be pregnant and don't know for 4 to 6 weeks.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy makes your baby more likely to have these problems:
- Premature birth. This is the case if your baby is born before the 37th week of pregnancy. Premature babies can have serious health problems at birth and later in life.
- Brain damage and problems with growth and development
- Birth defects, such as heart defects, hearing problems, or vision problems. Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems with general health, the development of the body, or the way the body works.
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs). Children with FASDs can have a number of problems, including intellectual and developmental disabilities. These are problems with the way the brain works that can cause a person to have difficulty learning, communicating, caring for themselves, or getting along with others. They can also experience physical development problems or delays. FASDs usually last a lifetime. Binge drinking while pregnant increases your chances of having a baby with FASDs. Binge drinking is when you drink four or more drinks in a 2 to 3 hour period.
- Low birth weight (also called LBW). This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds (8 ounces).
- Miscarriage. This is the case when a baby dies in the womb before the 20th week of pregnancy.
- Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of gestation.
Drinking alcohol puts your unborn baby at risk
When you're pregnant, the alcohol you drink gets from your blood across the placenta to your baby's blood.
When you drink, your unborn baby may have about the same level of alcohol in their blood as yours. This can damage your baby's developing brain and limit their physical and cognitive growth and development.
Some of the most serious risks of exposing your unborn baby to alcohol are:
- slowed fetal growth
- low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Miscarriage (losing a baby before the 24th week of pregnancy)
- Stillbirth (a baby born dead after 24 weeks of gestation)
- a range of physical, mental, behavioral, and learning disabilities collectively known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
How Much Alcohol is Safe?
Although the risk is higher with heavy drinking, any amount of alcohol can harm your developing baby. Heavy drinking (5 or more drinks on at least one occasion) during pregnancy can seriously affect a developing baby.
You can prevent FASD by not drinking at all during pregnancy. Many doctors suggest that.
The effects of alcohol on a developing baby depend on:
- How much, how often and at what stage of pregnancy does the mother drink alcohol. The worst effects are often related to heavy drinking.
- Whether the mother used other drugs, smoked, or was in poor health for any reason during pregnancy. In these cases, the child is more likely to have problems.
- Traits passed down through families. Some babies are more likely to be harmed by alcohol than others. It's not clear why, but there could be a genetic link.