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In what ways does consuming alcohol affect a mother and her child during pregnancy? Can it cause serious effects on the baby that is yet to be born? Can it cause any consequences to the mother and child during the delivery of the child?

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High levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can be harmful which can develop physical and mental defects in a fetus.

When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through placenta to a baby and can stunt fetal growth, facial deformities, damage neurons and brain structures which can result in intellectual disability and also cause other physical damage. A baby's liver is one of the last organs to develop fully and doesn't mature until the latter stages of pregnancy, so cannot process alcohol. So if you drink at any time during your pregnancy, the alcohol can affect your baby.

While the effects attributed to alcohol are still more common in heavier drinkers, they seem to happen at much lower drinking levels than seen in those with FAS.

The most severe of the alcohol-related conditions (due to heavy drinking) is Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). It causes:

  • Problems with physical and emotional development.
  • Hyperactivity and poor attention span.
  • Poor short-term memory.

Baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome:

Baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Image credits: Wiki / Teresa Kellerman

Children with FAS have distinct facial features including: small and narrow eyes, a small head, a smooth area between the nose and the lips and a thin upper lip.

They also show the following symptoms:

  • Hearing and ear problems.
  • Mouth, teeth and facial problems.
  • Weak immune system.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Liver damage.
  • Kidney and heart defects.
  • Cerebral palsy and other muscular problems.
  • Height and weight issues.
  • Hormonal disorders.

Source: Drinkaware

FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) is the umbrella term used to describe the conditions that occur in people who have been diagnosed with some, but not all, of the symptoms of FAS. It is more difficult for a specialist to diagnose FASD than it is FAS, because children with FASD may not have facial deformities. However the following symptoms can show up:

  • Learning difficulties.
  • Problems with language.
  • Lack of appropriate social boundaries (such as over friendliness with strangers).
  • Poor short term memory.
  • Inability to grasp instructions.
  • Failure to learn from the consequences of their actions.
  • Egocentricity.
  • Mixing reality and fiction.
  • Difficulty with group social interaction.
  • Poor problem solving and planning.
  • Hyperactivity and poor attention.
  • Poor coordination.

The UK's Department of Health recommends that if you're pregnant you should avoid alcohol altogether.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which advises healthcare professionals (GPs and nurses), advice pregnant women to:

  • not to drink alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy, because there may be an increased risk of miscarriage,
  • if they choose to drink alcohol while they are pregnant, they should drink no more than one or two units of alcohol, once or twice a week as there is uncertainty about how much alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy, but if a low level is consumed there is no evidence of harm to an unborn baby,
  • if women want to avoid all possible alcohol-related risks, they should not drink alcohol during pregnancy, as the evidence on this is limited.

See also:

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Drinking alcohol can have some detrimental effects. While someone is pregnant, binge drinking of alcohol is very dangerous, while mild-to-moderate is more safe, but still not advised.

"When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby."1 Drinking alcohol during pregnancy raises the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and some physical and mental disabilites known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). Children that develop FASDs are at risk for a variety of problems, such as facial defects, smaller body size, intellectual/learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and some problems in the body (vision, hearing, and organ problems).

A meta-analysis of over 30 studies on this topic found that binge drinking causes a higher risk of FASDs in children. Moderate drinking can also be dangerous, though, and it is recommended that pregnant mothers don't drink any alcohol. "The results of this review highlight the importance of abstaining from binge drinking during pregnancy and provide evidence that there is no known safe amount of alcohol to consume while pregnant."2

It is recommended that mothers abstain from drinking while pregnant, even mild drinking. Why take the risk?

Also see this related answer.


[1] CDC - Alcohol Use in Pregnancy

[2] The association of mild, moderate, and binge prenatal alcohol exposure and child neuropsychological outcomes: a meta-analysis

New study shows no harm from moderate drinking in pregnancy, but experts urge caution

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    Unsubstantiated. There have been a few studies (Some women may have been reassured by a study that was published in October 2010 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. In that study, researchers in the U.K. reported that the 5-year-old children of women who drank up to one to two alcoholic drinks per week or per occasion while pregnant were not at an increased risk of behavioral or cognitive problems). While abstaining is the safest course, it is not a guarantee that light drinking will cause problems. – JohnP Apr 7 '15 at 2:55
  • For example: today.com/parents/… (Although, it must be noted that one of the co-authors still recommends abstaining). – JohnP Apr 7 '15 at 2:58
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    @JohnP Found a study on it and edited some info in. Guess you shouldn't always trust the CDC (stupid reliable sources list) :P – michaelpri Apr 7 '15 at 3:04
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    Ah, all that it means is that (as with a lot of health) we just don't know. – JohnP Apr 7 '15 at 3:14

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