Alcohol, Pregnancy & Breastfeeding

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It has been well-established that alcohol is harmful to a fetus during pregnancy. If you are trying to conceive or just became pregnant, your doctor has likely warned you not to consume alcohol. In addition to alcohol, you must stop eating deli meat, avoid soft cheeses and raw fish. 

You may be wondering, what are the effects of alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding? Is it as strict as medical experts claim, or is there any flexibility with the guidelines? It is essential to understand the risks and health factors associated with alcohol during this time. We will take a look at what the research says, what the consequences are, and how you can remain safe during pregnancy as well as breastfeeding. 

Please reach out if you are pregnant, trying to conceive, or worried about your current alcohol use. Guardian Recovery is designed to treat all individuals regardless of where they are in their journey toward wellness. In addition to evidence-based treatment and therapies, we also have a specialized women’s rehab program. Empathetic staff members will greet you to create an individualized treatment plan just for you. A free assessment and benefit check can be completed by contacting us

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What To Know About Alcohol & Pregnancy

According to the CDC, no known amount of alcohol is considered safe during pregnancy or when trying to conceive. This includes all alcohol, such as wine, beer, hard seltzer, hard cider, wine coolers, and liquor.  

Why is alcohol dangerous during pregnancy? The mother’s blood is transmitted to the fetus through the umbilical cord. When a mother has consumed anything toxic, such as alcohol, drugs, or spoiled food, it is passed on to the fetus. 

Any stage of development is vulnerable to toxins and can result in adverse outcomes such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, miscarriage, stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,  prematurity, and a range of lifelong disabilities that can impact a child emotionally, physically, intellectually, and behaviorally. 

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)

FASD is a term in which individuals have developed a group of lifelong conditions due to exposure to alcohol before birth. The entirety of this disorder is solely based on alcohol use during conception and pregnancy. 

Often a person with FASD has a mix of both physical, behavioral, and learning problems. Children with FASD have recognizable features and characteristics. 

FASD Characteristics and Behaviors: 

  • Abnormal facial features-smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip.
  • Smaller head size.
  • Shorter than average height.
  • Low body weight.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Hyperactive behavior.
  • Difficulty with attention.
  • Poor memory.
  • Difficulty with school-especially math.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Speech and language delays.
  • Intellectual disability-low IQ.
  • Poor reasoning and judgment.
  • Sleep or sucking problems as a baby.
  • Vision or hearing problems.
  • Problems with the heart, kidneys, and bones.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Here are the most common questions asked and answered about alcohol use during pregnancy:

Is it ok to drink a small amount of alcohol during pregnancy? 

No. There is no known safe amount of alcohol consumption for pregnant women, including early in pregnancy when a woman may not know that she is pregnant. 

Are some kinds of alcohol less harmful than others?

No. Exposure to all forms of alcohol is unsafe for babies at every stage of pregnancy. 

What if I drank during my last pregnancy, and my child was fine? 

Every pregnancy is different, as well as every child. In addition, the symptoms of FASD may not be apparent until later in childhood. 

Does FASD have lifelong effects? 

Yes. While the symptoms can range from mild to severe, there is no known cure for FASD. 

What If I am pregnant and have been drinking? 

If you just found out you are pregnant or have learned about the risks of alcohol, please stop now. Every day counts in giving your baby a healthy pregnancy. 

How can I stop drinking? 

If you have difficulty stopping alcohol use and are pregnant, please reach out. Guardian Recovery has a variety of treatment options available for you. 

What About Light Use of Alcohol & Pregnancy?

Although most people agree heavy alcohol use should never be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding, there are mixed views on whether light alcohol use may be considered safe. 

One of the problems with this belief is the definition of “light alcohol use.” For some people, perhaps that is 1-2 glasses of wine per day; light alcohol use for others could consist of a drink per trimester. 

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, alcohol use during pregnancy, even at low levels, is associated with behavioral and psychological effects in children, including anxiety, depression, and poor attention. 

Additionally, mixed evidence indicates whether light alcohol use may or may not be safe. One concerning study found that websites funded by the alcohol industry routinely omit or misrepresent the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.  

systematic review of prenatal alcohol exposure concluded that drinking alcohol during pregnancy leads to a risk of lower birth weight and poorer cognitive functions. 

We can determine from research that no known variable provides certainty that any amount of alcohol is safe. Knowing that even the smallest amount of alcohol can not be considered completely safe is enough to abstain from alcohol entirely during pregnancy. 

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Common Myths About Consuming Alcohol & Pregnancy

Because there is so much conflicting information regarding pregnancy and alcohol, here are the common myths to help you know what is true. 

Myth: 

Why don’t they have high rates of FASD in Europe, where women drink regularly? 

Fact: 

It is estimated that 17% of people in the UK have FASD versus 5% in the United States. People who drink alcohol during pregnancy have a high risk of delivering a baby with FASD, and it is estimated that 1,700 babies are born with FASD daily around the world. 

Myth: 

Why do some people drink alcohol during their pregnancy, and their children seem okay?

Fact:

Alcohol affects each person, pregnancy, and baby differently. The safest choice is to abstain from alcohol entirely during pregnancy. 

Myth: 

Isn’t a little wine safe during pregnancy? It’s not as bad as liquor. 

Fact:

All types of alcohol are teratogens that impact fetal development and lead to miscarriage, birth, SIDS, and FASD. 

Myth:

Alcohol is safe during the 3rd trimester because the fetus is already developed.

Fact:

The brain develops from conception to birth and even after the baby has been born. Any amount of alcohol can negatively impact the development of a baby’s brain. 

Summing Up—Alcohol & Pregnancy

Women should avoid alcohol use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as alcohol is toxic to a developing fetus and baby. Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy have a higher risk of experiencing a miscarriage, stillbirth, a baby dying of SIDS, or being diagnosed with FASD, a life-long disorder impacting a child’s physical, emotional, behavioral, and intellectual abilities. 

Although there is mixed research regarding light alcohol use and pregnancy, the evidence is clear that even minimal alcohol use can increase risks of emotional disturbance in children, low birth weight, and poorer cognitive outcomes. 

Finally, the most important takeaway is that there is no indication that alcohol is ever safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as there is always a risk it can harm the baby. A baby’s brain develops once conception has started, and alcohol can negatively impact neural development even after a child has been born. 

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Please contact us if you are worried about your alcohol use and may be pregnant or trying to conceive. Guardian Recovery takes a holistic approach toward healing, focusing on the whole person. This includes your life’s physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social needs. We have individualized therapies to heal and address the issues related to addiction. We also have a specialized woman’s rehab facility to help ensure comfort and connection during your recovery.  Please contact us today for a free, no-obligation insurance benefit check at your convenience.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html#:~:text=There%20is%20no%20known%20safe,exposed%20to%20alcohol%20before%20birth.
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pregnancy.pdf
  3. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/epub/10.1176/appi.ajp.2020.20010086
  4. https://www.jsad.com/doi/full/10.15288/jsad.2019.80.524
  5. https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/49/6/1972/5716483
  6. https://www.proofalliance.org/article/common-myths-about-drinking-pregnancy/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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