Risks of Drinking during Pregnancy

Alcohol abuse can cause serious health problems, and it doesn’t matter who the abuser is. The fact is that the use or abuse of alcohol causes the same risks to pregnant women as it does to women who aren’t pregnant. However, women should be aware of the fact that alcohol consumption is even more dangerous for them than it is for men.

Although it is more likely that men will drink more than women, the detrimental results of alcohol will affect women over shorter periods of time. This occurs because of the differences in women’s body structures and chemistries which cause them not only to absorb more alcohol, but to take longer to metabolize it.

The following are some of the harmful effects caused by alcohol abuse:

 • Brain

Drinking alcohol can damage the brain by causing memory loss and shrinkage of the brain, and this brain damage appears after a shorter period of excessive alcohol use in women compared to men.

 • Liver

Women have a greater risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver and other liver-related diseases compared to men.

• Heart

Compared to men, even if women drink at lower levels, they have an increased risk of damage to the heart muscle

• Cancer

The risk of cancer increases as the alcohol usage increases, and this includes cancer of the breast, colon, mouth, throat, esophagus and liver.

When addressing alcohol consumption during pregnancy, drinking alcohol during this time is harmful for the unborn child. This is attributed to the fact that when a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol is passed across the placenta to the fetus. The fetus does not break down the alcohol as quickly as the mother does, and therefore ends up with a higher level of blood alcohol than the mother. This high level of blood alcohol can harm the baby’s development.

There is a group of conditions known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) which can occur to the baby when a mother drinks during her pregnancy. These disorders can affect a child’s physical condition as well as their behavior and ability to learn and may last well into adulthood. These conditions include fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD).

Fetal alcohol syndrome is characterized by these possible symptoms:

Poor growth before and after birth Decrease in muscle tone and coordination Delayed development and problems with thinking, speech, movement , or social skills Heart defects Facial problems such as small, narrow eyes with large folds over the upper eyelids, small head and upper jaw, and a smooth groove in the upper lip with a smooth and thin upper lip Usually babies with FAS do not have normal brain development.

Complications from FAS include an abnormal heart, behavioral problems, mental retardation, problems with the head, eyes, nose or mouth structures, slow coordination and growth, and even infant death.

Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder is characterized by these symptoms:

Sleep disturbances Attention deficit Decreased visual focus Increased response to noise Hyperactivity Speech development delay Altered motor skills Deficits in learning Difficulties with attachments They may have some of the physical features of FAS.

Alcohol-related birth defects include:

Central nervous system impairment Facial abnormalities Growth deficiencies Behavioral disorders Impaired intellectual development

Women who drink while pregnant also carry the risk of having a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or a premature delivery, and these risks are not dependent upon when the mother drinks, whether it be in early or late pregnancy. These risks are even greater if the mother was a binge drinker.

Since the safe amount of alcohol to drink and the safest time to consume alcohol during pregnancy is not known, the U.S. Surgeon General has advised that women who become pregnant should abstain from alcohol consumption. He is quoted from his advisory as saying: “We must prevent all injury and illness that is preventable in society, and alcohol-related birth defects are completely preventable . . . Therefore, it’s in the child’s best interest for a pregnant woman to simply not drink alcohol.”

Nearly half of all the births in the US result from unplanned pregnancies. This is a staggering statistic, especially if the women with those unwanted pregnancies were drinking without the knowledge of being pregnant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that even women who are planning to become pregnant or are sexually active and not using effective birth control should not drink alcohol. This would be one way to prevent unplanned pregnancies resulting in alcohol-related birth defects. If a woman has been drinking during her pregnancy, the sooner she stops drinking, the better it will be for her unborn infant.

Considering all the risks associated with drinking during pregnancy, women need to ask themselves if it’s really worth it. They need to remember that what they do now could affect their baby’s entire future.