During Pregnancy, No Amount of Alcohol Is Safe

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder may be caused by prenatal alcohol exposure in any amount

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Anyssa Garza, PharmD

(RxWiki News) It's well-known that heavy drinking during pregnancy can be dangerous for babies. But what about occasional drinking?

According to a new clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), prenatal alcohol exposure is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and neurodevelopmental disabilities in children. The AAP stressed that no amount of alcohol should be considered safe to drink at any point during pregnancy. And all types of alcohol can pose equal risk.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term for a range of conditions linked to prenatal alcohol exposure. These disorders are completely preventable if a woman abstains from alcohol during pregnancy.

FASDs can affect children in different ways, and these effects can range from mild to severe. A child with FASD may have a low body weight, a small head size, abnormal facial features, poor memory, hyperactive behavior, learning disabilities, vision or hearing problems, speech or language delays and intellectual disabilities, among other health problems.

While the adverse neurocognitive and behavioral effects caused by prenatal alcohol exposure are lifelong, early diagnosis and treatment can improve a child’s health. Unfortunately, a lack of uniformly accepted diagnostic criteria for FASDs has significantly limited efforts to lessen their impact, according to lead author Janet F. Williams, MD, FAAP.

"Even though fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are the most commonly identifiable causes of developmental delays and intellectual disabilities, they remain significantly under-recognized," Dr. Williams said in a press release.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to prevent FASDs, a woman should also abstain from alcohol when she thinks she might get pregnant. This is because alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, including before a woman knows she’s pregnant. In the US, nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, according to the CDC.

According to Dr. Williams and colleagues, about half of all women of childbearing age in the US report consuming alcohol within the past month. Nearly 8 percent of these women said they drank alcohol during pregnancy.

The AAP report noted a recent study that found an increased risk of infant growth problems even when a pregnant woman’s consumption was limited to one "standard" drink per day. One "standard" alcoholic drink is equal to a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.

According to Dr. Williams and colleagues, first-trimester drinking can result in 12 times the risk of giving birth to a baby with FASDs compared to not drinking. Drinking during both the first and second trimester can result in 61 times the risk. Drinking during all three trimesters can result in 65 times the risk.

This report was published Oct. 18 in the journal Pediatrics.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 16, 2015
Last Updated:
October 19, 2015