Drinking While Pregnant

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

DECEMBER 30, 2020


Many may remember a time, not too long ago, when doctors recommended alcohol to pregnant women for relaxation and pain relief. But as OBGYN and pain medicine specialist Jen Gunter, MD, explains in this New York Times piece, things began to change in the 1970s when fetal alcohol syndrome was formally recognized.

With New Year’s Eve looming (goodbye 2020!), it seems like the perfect time to address alcohol use during pregnancy. This topic is sometimes debated (can one glass of red wine really hurt?), but what should be made very clear is that there is no medical debate about drinking while pregnant. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clearly states:

There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink and no safe kind of alcohol. The CDC urges pregnant women not to drink alcohol any time during pregnancy.

Drinking during pregnancy can cause increased risk for miscarriage, stillbirth and a listing of characteristics and behaviors termed Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Some of the most concerning side effects include:

  • Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip, and small head size
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Speech and language delays
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Sleep and sucking problems as a baby
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Problems with heart, kidney or bones

Clearly, this is no small list and there are no minor symptoms. Yet, at least 10% of pregnant women in the U.S. still drink while pregnant, and the consequences are quite concerning.

As a culture, we have a very interesting relationship with alcohol. We associate it with relaxation, fun, as a means of unwinding or dealing with stress, and it is often at the center of parties or celebrations. But it doesn’t have to be! There are so many other options to cope with stress, and it’s entirely possible to have fun, let loose and celebrate without having to drink alcohol – especially during pregnancy.

So if you’re expecting a new baby in 2021, I’d encourage you to think twice before sipping champagne at midnight. Read more about the harmful effects of alcohol during pregnancy on the March of Dimes website.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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