Drinking While Pregnant

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

JANUARY 24, 2019


New Year’s Eve has just passed, yet it still seems fitting to address alcohol use during pregnancy. Some might remember the Boston Magazine provocative title cover and story, “What, Me Worry? The Growing Debate Over Drinking While Pregnant.” (December, 2012) 

What should be made very clear is that there is no “medical debate” about drinking while pregnant. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 5,000 children are born each year with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states clearly on their website:

“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. CDC urges pregnant women not to drink alcohol any time during pregnancy.”

The CDC further outlines that drinking during pregnancy can cause increased risk for miscarriage, stillbirth and a listing of characteristics and behaviors termed Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). Some of the most concerning 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 these are no minor symptoms.

The Boston Magazine article accurately reported that no physician interviewed would go on record to say that drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy is acceptable. To me, it seems that the writer's main point was that pregnant women are judged harshly about their decisions and choices, often by people who have no connection to them at all (such as their physician or partner), and who stand ready to express their unsolicited opinions about what said mom-to be is eating or doing. That is actually one point I can agree with.

The article quoted obstetrician Laura Riley: “Parents are constantly in an uproar about the fact that there’s more ADD, there’s more this, there’s more that … I just don’t understand, if you’re concerned with all these different things that are all neurodevelopmental, why on earth would you take a chance with something that you know is a neurotoxin?”

Excellent point, which led me to wonder who and where are the pregnant women ready to party?

Certainly the vast majority of moms I meet fall much further along the line of over concern about maintaining healthy choices during pregnancy. The article quoted CDC statistics that 7.6% of pregnant women drink at least occasionally, and among college educated that number rises to 10%, and of those between the ages of 35 and 44, the number rises to 14%.

What was not clear is what exactly do those numbers mean? Is this a rising trend, or have those numbers decreased over the past 10 years? No idea. Still, what is clear is that any amount of alcohol during pregnancy is not a good idea. Here’s another though, since when did New Year’s Eve have to be associated with drinking alcohol? It doesn’t have to be. Ask any parents with young children. The worst thing in the world is to have overindulged and have to be up early caring for little ones. Nothing in the world is worth that! For more information or questions go to 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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