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Alcohol and pregnancy: not a good mix

October 08, 2012

About three years ago this month, my husband and I were getting ready for our first “mommy and daddy” trip since our son was born. Our son was about 15 months old at the time, and he would be staying with grandparents as we explored Napa Valley, California. During that week, as we were scheduling tours of vineyards and making restaurant reservations, I was feeling a little “funny.” And I had only felt that way once before!

The night before we left for our trip, I took a pregnancy test. The results were positive! We were excited because both of us knew that we wanted two children to complete our family. We left for our trip, and while I didn’t taste any wines from the California vineyards, I did enjoy amazing food, delicious pasteurized cheeses, and quality time with my husband (of course!).

A couple times a year, I will get an email or text from a friend asking me how much alcohol is okay to drink when you are pregnant. Is a sip okay? Can I drink half a glass of wine with food? Can I have a taste of mixed alcohol drink now that I’m out of the first trimester? My answer to all of the above questions is no. Some people will accept that, and others will point out that they know somebody who did drink some alcohol when she was pregnant and her kid is the smartest one in the class, or that other entire countries are okay with consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Then I usually respond with (at the risk of sounding like my mother) “if everybody else jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”

There is no safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy. There is no safe time to drink during pregnancy, nor is there a safe alcohol to consume while you are pregnant. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby. We know that alcohol is a teratogen, which means that it can cause birth defects and medical problems in babies if their mothers drink alcohol during pregnancy. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to multiple medical problems for the baby, including:

  • Stillbirth
  • Low body weight
  • Small head size
  • Abnormal facial features (smooth philtrum, the area between your nose and upper lip)
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Difficulty concentrating and poor memory
  • Difficulty in school (particularly in math)
  • Speech and language delays
  • Intellectual disability or low IQ
This array of medical problems is also known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Each one of these medical problems is 100% preventable if a woman does not consume alcohol during her pregnancy. If a woman is planning to become pregnant, or is sexually active and not using effective birth control, the CDC recommends that she should avoid alcohol because there is a period of time in early pregnancy that the woman may not be aware that she is pregnant.

If a woman is drinking during pregnancy, it is never too late to stop! If you or if you know somebody that is pregnant and cannot stop drinking, please contact your local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or substance and alcohol abuse treatment facilities.

A few of my friends asked me if I had “one little sip” of wine on our trip to California. I didn’t, and I tell them it’s because I could not risk the health of my daughter because of my own desires. Sure, I was in one of the most beautiful valleys in the country and surrounded by wine as far as the eye could see, but the risk was definitely not worth it. As a parent, we learn to make many personal sacrifices for our children, out of pure love and knowing that we want to give them best possible start in life.

For more information, visit the CDC's page on alcohol use in pregnancy.