Skip to content

    Health & Pregnancy

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Alcohol and Pregnancy: Is 'A Little Bit' Safe?

    Find out what experts say about whether light drinking is risky when you’re pregnant.
    By Jen Uscher
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

    If you're pregnant and wondering if it's OK to indulge in the occasional small glass of merlot or to sip a little champagne on New Year’s Eve, the advice you receive may be confusing.

    Some doctors recommend that you completely avoid alcohol when you’re expecting; others say that occasional light drinking is unlikely to harm your baby.

    Chances are your friends are divided on this, too. One might confide that she enjoyed the occasional beer during her pregnancy and feels her child turned out fine, while another sees this as taking an unnecessary risk.

    For decades, researchers have known that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects. But the potential effects of small amounts of alcohol on a developing baby are not well understood.

    Whatever the risks, many moms-to-be are choosing not to totally give up alcohol. A recent CDC study found that about one in eight pregnant women in the U.S. report drinking at least one alcoholic beverage in the past month.

    Here’s what doctors say pregnant women should keep in mind when deciding whether to drink lightly or to steer clear of alcohol altogether.

    How Much Is Too Much?

    “The problem with drinking alcohol during your pregnancy is that there is no amount that has been proven to be safe,” says Jacques Moritz, MD, director of gynecology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

    David Garry, DO, associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and chair of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Task Force for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists District II/NY, agrees. He says that researchers don’t know enough about the potential effects of drinking alcohol at particular times during the pregnancy to be able to say that any time is really safe.

    It’s also difficult to predict the impact of drinking on any given pregnancy because some women have higher levels of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.

    “If a pregnant woman with low levels of this enzyme drinks, her baby may be more susceptible to harm because the alcohol may circulate in her body for a longer period of time,” Garry tells WebMD.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

    Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
    what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

    Today on WebMD

    hand circling date on calendar
    Track your most fertile days.
    woman looking at ultrasound
    Week-by-week pregnancy guide.
     
    Pretty pregnant woman timing contaction pains
    The signs to watch out for.
    pregnant woman in hospital
    Are there ways to do it naturally?
     
    slideshow fetal development
    Slideshow
    pregnancy first trimester warning signs
    Article
     
    What Causes Bipolar
    Video
    Woman trying on dress in store
    Slideshow
     
    pregnant woman
    Article
    Woman looking at pregnancy test
    Quiz
     
    calendar and baby buggy
    Tool
    dark chocolate squares
    Slideshow