One Drink is One Too Many During Pregnancy

Prenatal exposure to any alcohol at all increases the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you're thinking just one beer or just a single glass of wine during pregnancy can't hurt, think again. A new study reveals that every drop counts.

A study of nearly a thousand women has revealed that even a single drink a day - especially during the first trimester - can lead to some symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome.

"Avoid alcohol while pregnant or trying to conceive."

The study, led by Haruna Feldman, PhD, MPH, of the University of California San Diego, concluded, "Women should continue to be advised to abstain from alcohol consumption from conception throughout pregnancy."

Their research is based on information from the California Teratogen Information Service and Clinical Research Program, which ran from 1978 to 2005.

Women enrolled in the program underwent counseling and then reported whether they had been exposed to any of 70 different substances, including alcohol.

Pregnant women who both were and were not exposed to the substances were asked to participate in the study, which ultimately included 992 women.

The researchers looked at whether pregnant women had drinks in the first six weeks of their pregnancy, in the second half of the first trimester (6-12 weeks), or in the second or third trimesters.

They also considered the amount of alcohol women drank: how many drinks they had per day, how many binge episodes they had and the maximum number of drinks they had in a day.

After their children were born, the infants were inspected for 132 different possible abnormalities.

Among the abnormalities researchers looked for were characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome, such as a smooth philtrum, a thin upper lip and a microcephaly, where the head is smaller due to an improperly developed brain.

They also looked for lower than average birth weights and birth lengths.

All five characteristics occurred at a higher rate in women who drank one or more drinks a day during the first trimester, especially during the second half of the first trimester.

About a quarter of the infants of these women showed the smooth upper lip and/or a small upper lip, a facial feature associated specifically with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Among those who drank during the first trimester, there was also a 12 percent higher risk of a smaller head size, 16 percent higher risk of lower birth weight, and an 18 percent higher risk of smaller birth length.

The researchers also found an association between drinking during the second trimester and both a smooth upper lip and reduced birth weight and length.

Only birth length appeared associated with alcohol intake during the third trimester. The researchers discovered that birth length shortened according to how much the women drank during pregnancy.

The study appears in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. The authors did not disclose any financial conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 18, 2012
Last Updated:
January 19, 2012