Is there any safe amount of alcohol a woman can drink while she is pregnant? Are there drinking safety guidelines to follow during pregnancy?
We have no strong research evidence for a threshold of drinking below which there is no harm to the developing child.
Although studies consistently show that heavy drinking during pregnancy causes a cluster of harmful symptoms called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, less is known about the effects of low to moderate alcohol consumption levels. The safest decision for mother and child is complete abstinence.
The risks are real
While some studies claim that moderate drinking during pregnancy does not specifically affect the child’s neurodevelopment, other reports show that even light drinking (defined as two to three standard drinks per occasion and five standard drinks per week) is linked toincreased risk for behavioral problems.
Although these studies do not give us a clear “safety range” for drinking during pregnancy, they do prove that the risk is real. Clearly the margin is very slim–you can only consume a very small amount of alcohol before the fetus is put at risk.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, are a group of symptoms caused by drinking while pregnant. While they are devastating, they are 100% preventable.
To ensure the safety and well-being of your child, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women avoid drinking alcohol at any time during pregnancy and claims there is no known safe amount or kind of alcohol. The effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, which include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, are unpredictable. The risk for each individual is based on the mother and fetus’ rate of metabolism and genetic differences.
Not all children exposed to alcohol, even at high levels, will be affected to the same degree. Every pregnancy is different. The safest choice for pregnant women is always abstinence.
Abstinence is Best
With such a small and unknown margin, the best way to ensure the safety of your unborn child is to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. If you are already a light drinker who only takes a glass during social events, it may not be difficult to stop completely.
For a more habitual drinker however, the sacrifice is greater and the idea of abstinence is less appealing. In fact, when dealing with those who already drink habitually, suggesting complete abstinance may only encourage their drinking habit.
If abstinence is not a likely option, you can turn to the next best thing: guidelines.
Guidelines for drinking during pregnancy
Even if you’re not able to completely stop drinking, you will still benefit from any reduction in alcohol consumption. If you must drink during pregnancy, the following guidelines may help reduce the incidence of harm.
- Don’t drink more than one serving of alcohol two days in a row. Studies show that drinking every other day poses less risk than drinking for consecutive days.
- Don’t exceed more than 2 standard drinks in one day.
- Eat when you drink. This can slow down the absorption of alcohol.
- Know the ABV content of what you drink. Many women underestimate the quantity of alcohol in their beverages and consume more alcohol than they intend.
- Plan to abstain from alcohol even if you are planning to become pregnant. The fetus is most vulnerable to the effects of alcohol during the first trimester. Only about 40% of women realize that they are pregnant at 4 weeks of gestation, a critical period for organ development.
Do No Harm
One of the first laws of healthcare includes the principle of nonmaleficence, which means to “do no harm.” Health care professionals promise to refrain from deliberately harming a patient, or purposefully giving the patient a treatment or medication that would even place them at risk for harm.
In an even more profound way, mothers have the responsibility to exercise nonmaleficence for their unborn child.
If you are struggling with a chronic alcohol problem and cannot stop drinking, help is available. Treatment programs are available to help you cut back safely throughout your pregnancy, and even throughout your life.
If you have any questions, or would like to learn more, please call us 1.707.200.6968. We’d be happy to direct you towards the next step.