Alcohol and Pregnancy

2011/06/08 in Alcohol and Drugs

Many people don’t know that alcohol can affect an unborn baby. Your concern shows that you care about the future. Choosing to have a baby is a big, important step.


So is choosing the way you will take care of yourself and that baby even before it is born, while it is inside of your body. This tape offers new information on the effect of alcohol on the unborn.

We all make choices every day. Some of our choices affect no one but our selves. But some of our actions affect other people. Women have a special responsibility in certain choices they make. If pregnant, their actions may affect their unborn child.

Recently, doctors have learned that when a woman drinks during her pregnancy, the alcohol can injure the fetus, that is, the unborn child. This is called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or FAS. A baby born to a mother who drinks too much could have the following FAS problems:

•  The baby could be smaller than normal and may never catch up to other children its age in size or development.

•  The baby may be mentally retarded.

•  The baby may have heart defects and other internal problems.

•  The baby may have other deformities and problems of the nervous system.

Babies born to women who drink during pregnancy could have some, none, or all of these problems. The problems if any, may be mild or severe. Whether or not there will be problems, and how severe they may be, depends on several things. One is how much alcohol the mother drinks. Another is at what stage of fetal development the drinking is done. A third relates to the physical strengths and weaknesses the baby inherited naturally from its mother and father. In other words, some unborn babies are better able to resist the effects of the mother’s drinking. Not because alcohol isn’t dangerous to them, but because they are fortunate to be stronger babies than others. But, there is no way to predict which babies will be stronger, so caution with alcohol for all pregnant women is the best idea.

Scientists are still studying Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). So far, we don’t know how much alcohol it takes to damage an unborn child. But, we do know that the more the mother drinks, the greater the risk. We know that the alcohol in the mother’s blood passes into the blood of the fetus, and that the unborn’s developing organs are poorly equipped to handle it. We also know that although it is more likely that an alcoholic or a heavy drinker will have an FAS baby, it is possible for someone who drinks even moderately to have a baby with FAS symptoms. Some experts believe, for example, that alcohol may be a leading cause of learning problems due to hyperactivity, from which 5% to 10% of the school age population suffer. Of course such problems may not actually show up until a child enters school, and by that time no one will bother to ask the mother if she drank alcohol during her pregnancy with that child. Up until now, such problems were never linked to fetal development and alcohol. But medical scientists are looking more and more to fetal development for the answers to problems in infants and children. All of this means that women need to be especially careful of what they eat and drink throughout pregnancy.

So, what can you do to avoid having a FAS baby?

  • If you choose to drink alcohol: be careful not to get pregnant. Sometimes people forget to be careful when they are drinking and unplanned pregnancies occur. In that case, your drinking could already be harming the developing fetus you are not yet aware of.
  • If you become pregnant (or if there is a chance that you might): you can decide not to have any alcohol at all. Many experts advise this, since the risks may be even greater than we already know. It is especially important for a teenage mothers to be careful, because women under 18 are more likely to have babies that are very small, or that have other problems. By drinking alcohol, pregnant teenagers increase the possibility of harm to babies already at risk.
  • If you become pregnant and do choose to drink: you will be exposing your baby to added risk. There is no guarantee that any amount of alcohol is “safe.” If you are going to drink on a certain occasion, we suggest that you have only one drink. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism cautions pregnant women never to drink more than two drinks on any day. A glass of wine, a can of beer and a mixed beverage that contains “hard” liquor each counts as a “drink.”

We hope this information will help you make a good choice for your future—and your children’s.

If you have other questions or concerns about this topic, we suggest that you discuss them with your parents, a school counselor or contact 2-1-1 or 954-567-8336 (TEEN).


Teen Tapes is produced by the University of Wisconsin, Madison.