What Women Need to Know

Have you heard conflicting messages about alcohol use during pregnancy? Here are answers to commonly asked questions about drinking during pregnancy and how to have a healthy pregnancy.

Common Questions:

What’s safe?
To date, there is no research that has conclusively proven there is a safe amount of alcohol that a woman can consume during pregnancy.

Can I drink while breastfeeding?
Research shows that alcohol in the milk can harm a child’s development, sleep, and learning.  For this reason, breastfeeding women should be very cautious about drinking alcohol, if they choose to drink at all.

I drank before I knew I was pregnant. Now what?
First, don’t panic!  The best thing to do is stop drinking alcohol as soon as you find out you are pregnant. The sooner you stop drinking, which includes wine, wine coolers, beer and hard liquor, the better it will be for both you and your baby. Then make sure you are maximizing other health behaviors that you have control over like getting regular prenatal care, taking good care of yourself like not smoking, eating healthy and getting plenty of rest.  It is also good to talk with your provider about any concerns you may have.

Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and many women do not know they are pregnant for 4-6 weeks. Important brain development is occurring during this time frame, so it is important to understand the risk of drinking during pregnancy and be able to modify health habits like drinking alcohol before you actually become pregnant.

If you are a mother of a child who was exposed to alcohol prenatally and would like to connect with other moms, please contact Tiffany Morgan at tmorgan@mofas.org to learn more about our Circle of Hope group, where women with incredible strength join together to share their stories, shed the shame and support each other through the challenges of raising children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

What if my partner drinks?
FASD is only caused if a woman drinks alcohol while she is pregnant. However, a partner can be supportive of the mom-to-be by encouraging her not to drink alcohol, and by abstaining from alcohol themselves.

Does it matter how much I drank or when I drank?
While drinking at any stage of pregnancy poses a risk, it is often not just about how much a woman drinks, but when. During the narrow span of days 17-21 after conception, when many women still do not know they are pregnant, alcohol can alter the blueprint of a child’s face, as well as disrupt the development of the brain, spinal cord and other organs forming at that time. Other variables which can determine the degree of damage caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy include the mother’s genetics, nutrition, age, and what parts of the brain and body are being developed.

Your doctor said “having one drink will be okay.”
Despite 40 years of scientific research about the high risk of drinking while pregnant, some health care providers still say “a little” alcohol or “occasional” alcohol is OK.  The problem is the different interpretations of “a little” or “occasional”.  Is it one drink per week?  Is it one drink a day?  And 60% of women over pour their drinks, which means that many women are drinking significantly more than they think they are.  No study has proven there is a safe level of alcohol during pregnancy. We know that alcohol is a teratogen and can cause permanent brain damage to a developing baby. Why take the risk?  All major medical associations including the CDC, the U.S. Surgeon General, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree and advise pregnant women not to drink alcohol at all.

Your mother said she “drank while she was pregnant, and you’re fine.”
It is not just about how much or when a woman drinks.  There are several other factors that also determine if a baby is impacted including the woman’s genetics, nutrition, age, etc. These variables differ from woman to woman, and pregnancy to pregnancy. The best way to ensure a healthy baby is to stay away from alcohol altogether.

You asked, “Is this a new problem? What’s the big deal?”
Here is why it’s a big deal – when you drink alcohol during pregnancy, so does your baby. The same amount of alcohol that is in your blood is also in your baby’s blood. Although your body is able to manage alcohol in your blood, you baby’s little body isn’t. Researchers have learned that even small amounts of alcohol can cause physical and cognitive problems such as learning disorders, short-term memory problems, and attention deficit disorder that often don’t show up until children begin school.

“But it’s just one drink.”
When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the alcohol travels through her blood and into the baby’s blood, tissues, and organs. That means when a pregnant mom has a glass of wine, her baby has a glass too.  The woman’s liver works hard to break down the alcohol in her blood, but a baby’s liver is too small to do the same.  That is why alcohol is much more harmful to a baby than to a woman during pregnancy.

I don’t drink hard liquor; only red wine from time to time, is that okay?
Alcohol is alcohol.  One type is not less harmful to the developing baby than another.  All types of alcohol including red wine, white wine, wine coolers, beer and hard liquor all contain chemicals that are harmful to development and may cause permanent damage.

Is it okay to drink alcohol in the third trimester because the baby is already “developed”?
Not true. The baby develops at a rapid rate through the entire pregnancy.  Most importantly, please remember that the brain is always developing, even after the baby is born!

Doesn’t Fetal Alcohol Syndrome usually occur in children of women who are poor and from a minority group?
This disability affects all ethnicity’s and people from all income levels.  In fact, the Minnesota Department of Health tells us that risk drinkers during pregnancy tend to be single, college educated women with incomes above $50,000 annually.

What is FASD?
FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in a developing baby that was prenatally exposed to alcohol.

Is there a cure for FASD?
Unfortunately, FASD cannot be cured. The brain damage that occurs to an unborn baby when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol cannot be changed or reversed.

Is FASD hereditary?
No. FASD cannot be “passed on” from a mother to a child like having brown eyes can be passed on. The only way for women with an FASD to have a child with an FASD is for that woman to drink alcohol when she is pregnant.

How would I know if I or my child have an FASD?
If you think it’s possible that you or your child has an FASD, visit our Screening & Diagnosis page for help. Or, visit our Resource Directory to find the resources you need near you.

For More Information:

Download the MOFAS Prenatal Brochure What Women Need to Know About Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy


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Copyright © 2017 Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome | Photos by Amy Zellmer, Custom Creations Photography.

This site is provided to families and professionals as an informative site on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It is not intended to replace professional medical, psychological, behavioral, legal, nutritional or educational counsel. Reference to any specific agency does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by MOFAS.