CDC Answers Common Questions About Alcohol and Pregnancy
What Are FASDs?
The term FASDs is a broad one, covering several conditions that can occur in children born to a mother who drank alcohol while pregnant. The central cause of the problems is that alcohol passes from the mother’s blood to the baby through the umbilical cord, meaning that if you drink alcohol when you’re pregnant, your baby does too.
There are three main types of FASDs: fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders and alcohol-related birth defects. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the worst of the possible outcomes from a mother’s drinking during pregnancy, leading to growth problems, abnormal facial features and problems with the central nervous system. Additional issues with things like memory, learning, attention span, communication, vision and hearing can mean that children with FAS struggle in school. Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders primarily involve issues with things like memory and learning, as well as problems related to impulse control and judgment. Finally, alcohol-related birth defects may lead to issues with hearing, the heart, the kidneys and the bones.
All of these issues are incurable and will have some impact on the child as he or she grows up, but if the problem is identified quickly enough—ideally before 6 years old—and support is provided, the effects can be minimized. The best approach, however, is to avoid drinking while pregnant to prevent such a condition from ever developing.
Common Questions About Alcohol and Pregnancy
The CDC offers some simple answers to the most common questions about alcohol use during pregnancy, and these can serve as a guide for pregnant mothers tempted to drink or struggling with alcoholism.
Is It Ever OK to Drink While Pregnant or Trying to Get Pregnant?
The answer to this question is “no,” particularly when you’re actually pregnant. Although it’s entirely possible to have a single glass of wine, say, without your child developing problems, there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, so the risk simply isn’t worth taking. This means that even if you drank the last time you were pregnant and there were no problems, it doesn’t mean you can drink the next time too—every baby responds to alcohol differently. If you don’t drink while you’re pregnant, then there is no risk of your child getting an FASD.
However, many women don’t realize they’re pregnant until four to six weeks into the pregnancy. This means that if you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s better to avoid drinking too, since you may be pregnant without realizing it and be risking your baby’s health.
If you have realized that you’re pregnant but you’ve been drinking recently, the most important thing is to stop immediately: it’s better to not drink at all, but since babies' brains develop throughout pregnancy, stopping now will minimize the risk. Just because you’ve had some alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean your baby will get an FASD, but the more you drink, the greater the risk.
Is Drinking Beer or Wine Safer Than Drinking Hard Liquor?
Again, there is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy, and there is no safe type of alcohol to drink. Regardless of the type of alcohol—beer, wine or spirits—there is pure alcohol (ethanol) in the drink (just diluted to varying levels), and this is what can harm your baby.
If I Have FASD, Does That Mean My Baby Will Get It?
FASDs are not genetic, so even if you have one yourself, your baby will not get one if you don’t drink during pregnancy.
Can the Father’s Drinking Cause an FASD?
If the baby’s father drinks, it may have some effect on his sperm—and these effects are currently being studied—but it will not cause an FASD: only the mother’s drinking can do that. However, for the purposes of making it easier for the mom-to-be to avoid alcohol, the father should consider stopping drinking, or at very least limiting social events that involve alcohol in order to minimize temptation.
What Should I Do If I Can’t Stop Drinking?
The most difficult situation for a mother to be in is to be struggling with alcohol addiction when pregnant. Overcoming addiction is incredibly challenging, and given the additional risk to your baby, there is more reason than ever to find additional support to help you get sober. There are many treatment centers across the country that can help you, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and making the decision to attend one and dedicate yourself to getting sober is the best thing you can do. It won’t be easy, but with support and guidance, you can do it.
It can’t be stressed enough that any alcohol consumption is risky for your baby, and the answers to these common questions should have given you the information you need to make the right decision. If you’re in treatment for an alcohol problem or you’ve decided to attend treatment, you’ve already made the first step to safeguard your baby’s health. No matter how hard it is, remember that you’re making a change for the good of your child, and congratulate yourself every single day that you don’t drink. You’re doing a good thing, and even though it isn’t easy, it will be worth every minute when you give birth to a healthy, happy baby.