Women's Health

Q&A: Alcohol and Pregnancy

Dr. Tara Gellasch provides information on the risks of using alcohol while pregnant.

Apr. 22, 2016 3   min read

Dear Doc:

My best friend is the first one of our group of friends to get pregnant. We enjoy going out together which frequently involves drinking. My friend used to frequently drink to the point that she was really intoxicated. I have noticed that she has cut back but despite being pregnant, she usually has a one or more alcoholic beverages when we are out. I asked her about it and she told me that alcohol only affects the baby at the end of the pregnancy and I should mind my own business. I am concerned about my friend and her baby? Is it okay to drink a little alcohol while you are pregnant?


Dear Reader:

The fact that your friend has asked you to ignore her drinking habits suggests that she may have an alcohol problem. From what you have said, she likely participates in “at-risk” drinking or “binge” drinking. At-risk drinking is defined as having three or more drinks on one occasion, or more than seven drinks per week. Binge drinking is defined as having three or more drinks within two hours.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the United States with up to 25% of the US population considered to be at risk alcohol users. The CDC reported that 53.6% of non-pregnant women between the ages of 18-44 reported any alcohol use within the past 30 days and 18.2% reported binge drinking in the past 30 days. Alcohol use does decrease in pregnancy but an astounding 10.2% of pregnant women reported use within the past 30 days and 3.1% reported binge drinking.

Unfortunately, your friend is incorrect! Alcohol can affect a developing fetus at all stages of pregnancy. There is no known “safe” amount of alcohol intake during pregnancy. In fact, children exposed to the same amount of alcohol during pregnancy may have very different outcomes. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) can result from prenatal alcohol exposure. FAS can include low height and weight, smaller than normal head, problems with brain development, and abnormal facial features. Many of the effects of drinking alcohol during the pregnancy show up later in the child’s life. It is estimated that between two and five percent of first graders in the United States are affected by FAS. These children can have behavioral problems as well as learning impairments. Children may be overactive, have difficulty completing tasks and have math or spatial deficits. They may be impulsive, have poor social skills, and be unable to understand the consequences of their behavior. Unfortunately these characteristics may even lead to criminal behavior. According to the National Organization of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, more than half of people with FAS will face legal trouble at some point in their life time. This is entirely preventable by eliminating alcohol use during pregnancy!

It sounds like your friend is not willing to discuss her alcohol use with you. However, I encourage you to let her know that you care about her and the baby, and that alcohol can have a serious negative impact on the baby. She should reach out to her OB provider to discuss her alcohol use again. The majority of women that drink will achieve great results with brief, targeted interventions by a medical provider.

To get more information about alcohol and pregnancy please go to the link: http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Alcohol-and-Women

Tara Gellasch, MD, is the Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital (NWCH) and sees patients at The Women’s Center at NWCH, a Rochester General Medical Group practice. Dr. Gellasch earned her Medical Doctorate from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Emory University. This column is meant to be educational and not intended to be used to make individual treatment decisions. Prior to starting or stopping any treatment, please confer with your own health care provider.


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