Alcohol and drugs
Alcohol during pregnancy
How does alcohol during pregnancy harm your baby?
When you drink alcohol during pregnancy, so does your baby. The same amount of alcohol that is in your blood is also in your baby's blood. The alcohol in your blood quickly passes through the placenta and to your baby through the umbilical cord.
Although your body is able to manage alcohol in your blood, your baby's little body isn't. Your liver works hard to break down the alcohol in your blood. But your baby's liver is too small to do the same and alcohol can hurt your baby's development. That's why alcohol is much more harmful to your baby than to you during pregnancy.
Alcohol can lead your baby to have serious health conditions, called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). The most serious of these is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Fetal alcohol syndrome can seriously harm your baby's development, both mentally and physically.
Alcohol can also cause your baby to:
- Have birth defects (heart, brain and other organs)
- Vision or hearing problems
- Be born too soon (preterm)
- Be born at low birthweight
- Have learning disabilities (including intellectual disabilities)
- Have sleeping and sucking problems
- Have speech and language delays
- Have behavioral problems
What can you do?
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause permanent harm to your baby. But the good news is that these harmful conditions can be completely avoided. If you stay away from alcohol during pregnancy, your baby can't have FASDs or any other health conditions caused by alcohol.
If you're pregnant or even thinking about getting pregnant, stop drinking alcohol. Alcohol includes wine, wine coolers, beer and liquor. There is no amount of alcohol that is proven to be safe.
You may know some women who drank regularly during pregnancy and had seemingly healthy babies. You may know some women who had very little alcohol during pregnancy and had babies with serious health conditions. Every pregnancy is different. Drinking alcohol may hurt one baby more than another. The best way to ensure a healthy baby is to stay away from alcohol altogether.
If you had an occasional drink before knowing you were pregnant, chances are it probably won't harm your baby. But it's very important that you stop drinking alcohol as soon as you think you might be pregnant. The sooner you stop drinking, the better off you and baby will be. Also, be sure to get regular prenatal care and tell your health care provider about any concerns you may have.
What can dads do?
Fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related health illnesses are caused when mom drinks during her pregnancy. Research is still being done to know if alcohol harms dad's sperm before a woman gets pregnant. But that doesn't mean dads can't do their part during pregnancy. Your partner can help you stay away from alcohol by:
- Encouraging you to keep away from social situations where people may be drinking
- Teaming up with you by staying away from alcohol, himself
How can you avoid alcohol?
Here are some tips for giving up alcohol:
- Avoid situations where you usually drink, like parties or bars.
- Ask your partner, family and friends to help you stay away from alcohol.
If you have a problem stopping:
- Ask your health care provider or employer about alcohol treatment programs.
- Join an Alcoholics Anonymous support group. Their telephone number is in the white pages or community service pages of your local telephone book.
- Contact the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), (800) NCA-CALL (622-2255).
- For more information and a referral to resources in your area, visit the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website or call (800) 662-HELP (662-4357).
Last reviewed July 2012