How does alcohol during pregnancy affect your baby?

Mothers are advised to avoid drinking because of damaging effects of alcohol during pregnancy.

Woman pours wine into glass

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Thinking about pouring a glass of wine for yourself when you’re pregnant?

Don’t, advises Dr. Angela Meyer, OB/GYN at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic, no matter what you may have heard otherwise.

“I personally advise my patients not to drink any alcohol during pregnancy.  Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome,” she said

What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is not a single disorder, but instead it’s characterized by a cluster of metal and physical defects in a child that has been exposed to alcohol in the uterus.

A fetus metabolizes alcohol much more slowly than an adult, so when alcohol crosses the placenta, blood alcohol concentrations can be high in the developing fetus. Alcohol can interfere with how oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the fetus’ tissues and organs.

The main effect is permanent damage to the central nervous system, which can cause brain damage and cognitive and functional disabilities.

Characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome are

  • Metal retardation
  • Growth and behavioral disturbances
  • Atypical facial features
  • Deformities in joints, limbs and fingers

Some studies have concluded that light drinking use may be safe, but Dr. Meyer cautions against drinking during pregnancy.

“The problem is that we don’t have the information as to how much alcohol and at what gestational age could possibly be safe without damaging the fetus,” Dr. Meyer said. “There is no research study that accurately addresses those questions.”

She is not alone in her recommendations.

The Surgeon General of the United States issued a new advisory in 2005 that advises women to completely abstain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy or even if they are considering becoming pregnant.

Damage can happen to a fetus at any stage of pregnancy – even before a woman knows she is pregnant.

Dr. Meyer says it’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations.