Experts as well as others we meet seem to have quite divergent views about alcohol during pregnancy: while some will tell you that the occasional glass of wine is perfectly OK to have when expecting, others will caution on the side of complete abstinence all throughout pregnancy and so long as a woman breastfeeds.
What alcohol during pregnancy can mean
About 40,000 babies are born each year in the United States with problems associated with exposure to alcohol while in the womb. These are known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders which can range from the mild to the severe including mental and physical defects.
Using alcohol in pregnancy raises the risk of mental retardation, problems involving brain development, development of facial features, behavioral and emotional problems.
Even if actual mental or physical effects do not occur, the risk of other pregnancy complications can rise: chances of still birth, low birth weight, premature birth and miscarriage are known to rise among women who use alcohol during pregnancy.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the term given to the physical and mental defects that can occur in individuals exposed to alcohol in the womb because alcohol can cross the placental barrier and is the leading cause of mental retardation in the developed world.
There is a characteristic abnormal development of facial features (small head, small eyes, slow physical development etc) and brain structures due to this.
How much alcohol during pregnancy is too much?
The research on the subject of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome points to binge drinking or excessive alcohol consumptions during pregnancy leading to mental and physical problems with the baby. However what is considered “too much” to drink during pregnancy?
The fact is that researchers have not been able to agree on any amount of alcohol that is deemed ‘safe’ during pregnancy. So if a question is asked, What amount of alcohol in pregnancy is safe? The answer would have to be None because no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.
The most recent study on the subject of alcohol during pregnancy also concluded that no amount of alcohol is safe to consume when pregnant. The study found that it is the second half of the first trimester that is the critical time for exposure to alcohol. It was found that the impact alcohol had on each different pregnancy varied; how each fetus responded to alcohol also differed so it was not possible to say that X amount was safe.
The study authors have come down in favor of the “no alcohol in pregnancy” principle because of this unpredictability of how alcohol can affect the fetus. Tom Donaldson, president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Washington, D.C. has gone on record to say that the risk of fetal abnormality rises with each drink that a pregnant woman has.
The position of experts with regard to alcohol during pregnancy is that women should abstain completely while pregnant and even women who are contemplating getting pregnant or are likely to get pregnant should therefore avoid alcohol.