Drinking During Pregnancy: Safe Or Unsafe?

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

For decades, women have been told that drinking during their pregnancy was a huge no-no. However, recent studies have sparked new discussions in this area, with some claiming that a little alcohol won’t harm a fetus. Learn more about the risks of drinking during pregnancy and the findings from these new studies.

Possible Risks Of Drinking During Pregnancy

Medical experts have warned against drinking alcohol while pregnant for many years. The reason for this ban on alcohol stems from evidence that exposure to alcohol in the womb can cause a baby to suffer from physical, behavioral and mental problems for the rest of his life.

When a woman has consumed a significant amount of alcohol while pregnant, it can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. This condition may cause the following health issues for the woman’s child:

  • Being born too small or underweight
  • Delayed development, both physically and mentally
  • Problems with sight or hearing
  • Difficulties with sleeping or eating
  • Low attention span
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor impulse control
  • Extreme nervousness and anxiety
  • Poor coordination
  • Learning disorders
  • Mental retardation
  • Heart defects
  • Distinctive facial features, such as small eyes, a very thin upper lip, smooth skin between the nose and upper lip or a short, upturned nose
  • Deformities of limbs, joints and fingers
  • Small head circumference and brain size

Fetal alcohol syndrome cannot be cured. It usually leads to a need for lifelong medical care or assistance of some kind. The more alcohol you drink while pregnant, the more likely your child will develop fetal alcohol syndrome. Doctors are so wary of drinking alcohol during pregnancy that they advise women to stop drinking alcohol if they are trying to get pregnant or if they believe they may be pregnant.

To learn about other things that pregnant women should avoid, read 10 Things To Avoid During Pregnancy.)

Recent Studies

Despite the many years of warning women not to drink any alcohol at all, some researchers have recently discovered that these warnings may be too harsh. According to a series of five studies in Denmark, low to moderate drinking during pregnancy does not affect the neuropsychological development of children.

This study followed over 1,600 pregnant women and monitored their alcohol intake. Then, they followed up with them five years later to see if their alcohol intake had affected their children. Their findings demonstrated that the children whose mothers had low to moderate alcohol intake during pregnancy had very similar scores to that of children whose mothers abstained from alcohol during pregnancy when they were tested for their IQ, attention span and executive function. Additionally, the study supported evidence that heavier drinking during pregnancy did result in children who scored lower on these tests at age five.

In this study, “low” levels of drinking meant between 1 and 4 drinks per week, while “moderate” drinking was 5-8 drinks per week. Heavy drinking was described as 9 or more drinks per week.


These studies are some of the first of their kind in recent years, so it’s natural that they many people talking about whether doctors have been too strict about pregnancy and alcohol consumption. However, there are a few things that it is essential to consider before deciding that it’s okay to drinking lightly during your pregnancy:

  • Alcohol content: In these new studies, a single drink was defined as 12 grams (g) of pure alcohol. However, a standard drink (a 12-ounce (oz.) beer, an 8-oz. malt liquor, a 5-oz. wine or a 1.5-oz. shot) in the U.S. contains 14 g, so it’s important to think about how much alcohol you’re consuming rather than just how many drinks you’re having.
  • Genetics: People metabolize alcohol differently, which is largely due to genetics. In addition, genetics affect a child’s vulnerability to fetal alcohol syndrome. Essentially, a certain number of drinks may affect you and your child differently than another woman and her child depending on your genes.
  • Other studies: Though they are not as new as the most recent findings, other studies have linked small amounts of alcohol to developmental problems in children or even an increased risk of miscarriage. In addition, these new studies have not determined whether developmental issues could arise later on since they only follow up with these children at the age of five.

Bottom Line

In short, there is an increasing amount of evidence that shows that having an occasional drink or two over the course of your pregnancy won’t do serious harm to your child. In addition, it may alleviate some of the fears and guilty feelings from women who drank alcohol before they realized that they had become pregnant. However, until these findings are confirmed in numerous other studies, doctors still advise pregnant women to abstain from drinking alcohol in order to best protect their child and to avoid any of the detrimental effects of fetal alcohol syndrome.


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