Drinking Alcohol during Your Pregnancy

By Joanne Stone, Keith Eddleman, Mary Duenwald

Clearly, pregnant women who use alcohol put their babies at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, which encompasses a wide variety of birth defects (including growth problems, heart defects, mental retardation, or abnormalities of the face or limbs). The controversy arises because medical science hasn’t defined an absolute safe level of alcohol intake during pregnancy.

Scientific data shows that daily drinking and heavy binge drinking can lead to serious complications, although little information is available about occasional drinking. Two recent studies from Britain, however, demonstrated that light or moderate drinking had little effect on either neurodevelopmental outcomes or balance.

In one study, up to two drinks/week was not linked with developmental problems with children. A separate study of 7,000 10-year-olds whose mothers had light (one glass/week) or moderate (three to seven glasses/week) alcohol consumption during pregnancy found that the children had no difference in balance compared to those whose mothers did not drink at all during pregnancy.

The authors of the studies still say, however, that abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy is the best choice. Similarly, both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend avoiding any amount of alcohol during pregnancy.

If you think you may have a drinking problem, don’t feel uncomfortable talking to your practitioner about it. Special questionnaires are available to help your doctor identify whether your drinking is excessive enough to pose a risk to you and the fetus. If you think you may have a problem, discussing this questionnaire with your practitioner is crucial to your baby’s health — and to yours.