Alcohol's Effect on Your Fetus: What to Know

Alcohol and pregnancy simply don’t go together.

When you drink, the alcohol passes through the umbilical cord and placenta to your baby. It’s like your baby is drinking, too. This can keep your baby from growing the way he should. Alcohol can affect his brain and other organs. It also can cause other serious problems, including:

  • Miscarriage. You can lose your baby during the early few months of pregnancy.
  • Stillbirth. You can lose your baby in the womb during the second half of your pregnancy.
  • Preterm labor. Drinking can make your baby arrive too early. Premature babies can have many health problems. Those often include breathing trouble and other issues associated with immature lungs.
  • Birth defects. Some babies are born with heart or kidney problems. Others may have trouble seeing or hearing or other health issues.
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). This can affect the way your baby looks, thinks, and learns. The mental and developmental disabilities usually last a lifetime. Binge drinking -- when you have 4 or more drinks in a couple of hours -- ups your baby’s chances of having this condition.

Babies and children with FASDs may:

  • Be smaller, shorter, and weigh less than normal
  • Have smooth skin between the nose and the top lip instead of the usual groove
  • Have poor memory and learning disabilities
  • Be hyperactive and have trouble paying attention
  • Have trouble communicating or getting along with others
  • Make poor choices

What You Can Do

Stop drinking. If you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, quit drinking right away. You might also want to do this if you have sex and you’re not on birth control, just in case you get pregnant. Some women have alcohol during their pregnancy and deliver healthy babies. But the only way you can keep your baby safe from problems caused by alcohol is to stay away from it altogether.

Plan ahead. It’ll be much easier to stop drinking if you strategize and have help from your family and friends.

  • Tell people you’re pregnant and won’t have alcohol. They might skip the drinks themselves. Even if they don’t, they can be more considerate if they know.
  • Pick the non-alcohol option if you can. If you like to socialize in bars, choose another spot. If you usually order a cocktail, opt for a fruit juice and stick an umbrella in it.
  • Remove alcohol from your house.

Ask for help. If you can't stop drinking on your own, tell your doctor. You can also contact a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or a local alcohol treatment center. The website for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has helpful information on treatment and recovery.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on December 20, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Alcohol use in pregnancy,” “Alcohol and pregnancy questions and answers.”

March of Dimes: “Alcohol during pregnancy.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Tobacco, alcohol, drugs and pregnancy.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Health Issues of Premature Babies.”

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