Pregnancy and alcohol – a non-judgmental take

Help! I took a bath and I can’t get out! Swollen ankles, frequent bathroom trips, heart burn, sleepless nights and weird cravings. This is one of the most amazing time of a women’s life when she is pregnant. I know, I know it may sound miserable to some, but what is better than growing a little human in your body. You get to experience things that men will never have the chance and feel that little person inside you while you are the sole thing that is providing them all the things they need to be born.

There is and will always be controversary over the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. “One glass of red wine a day is good for baby.” “Any amount of alcohol is forbidden.” Or maybe the judgmental people that will call you terrible names because you drank before you even knew you were actually pregnant.

Or how about if you are addicted to alcohol and just are having some serious problems kicking the habit. So, let’s chat. And remember, none of these things make you a bad person. If you are reading this, it means you care, and you want nothing but the best for your growing bundle of joy or maybe you are in the planning stages.

Drinking alcohol and planning a pregnancy

So, let’s just start at the beginning. Once upon a time, in a faraway castle there lived a princess who was trying to get pregnant. Ok, maybe not that type of beginning, but I do want to talk about before you get pregnant. There are some people who are planning and trying to get pregnant and some that get that joyous surprise of pregnancy without trying. And there is the third group that are the “if it happens, it happens” type.

It’s easiest to address the planners. If you are trying for a baby, it is best for both mom and dad to avoid alcohol in general.

There are plenty of studies into alcohol’s detrimental effects on sperm health – such as Alcohol’s effects on male reproduction (1998), …alcohol consumption are associated with impaired sperm parameters (2019) and Alcohol and reproductive function: a review (1987). 

So sorry prospective dads please ease off the beers…

For moms too, if you get pregnant while you have alcohol in your system there might or might not be any lasting affects to your child. So, the same goes for the other types of people who get pregnant. Just be aware when you find out you are carrying this bun in your oven, that you need to be aware of what you eat and drink now.

Drinking alcohol before you knew you were pregnant

The next thing that always comes up is the women who are drinking in the early stages of pregnancy because they don’t know they are pregnant. Don’t come down on yourself as you did not know you were pregnant. If you are a light drinker, chances are there is nothing bad has happened. I can’t say that is 100% nothing, but chances are much lower.

In fact, a Harvard study found that risks of drinking light amounts early in pregnancy are relatively low.  Not low as in zero but still low.  The wording of the Harvard study is “Minimal alcohol use during the first trimester doesn’t appear to increase the risk for high blood pressure complications, or premature birth or low birth weights”

That’s not an excuse to go ahead and drink – zero alcohol is still the prevailing advice – but it also means you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you drank before you knew you were pregnant.

The past is the past anyway. You can’t fix a past mistake so go easy on yourself and know it’ll likely be ok.

drinking during pregnancy statistic

The risks of drinking while pregnant

So, what are the actual risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and what can happen. Here is my disclaimer, some women can consume large quantities of alcohol and their child MIGHT be fine while another woman may have a moderate amount and their child has major issues so please be aware that no matter what studies show, every woman and every separate pregnancy is different and can have different affects. So, I am going to take the stance that alcohol should just be avoided in general. So, let’s delve into what can happen.

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Premature birth

Your child can be born prematurely. What this means is you will deliver baby before full term. A premature birth are those that occur before the START of the 37th week of pregnancy.

At the start of the 37th week lungs of the fetus are fully covered with a special surfactant. It’s a chemical substance, which helps to lower the surface tension between the air and the liquid inside a baby’s alveoli. As a result at the start of the 37 week most babies can breathe without any additional help.

If your child is born premature this can mean your child didn’t have the full time to grow and their organs may not be fully developed.


There is also the chances of a miscarriage or stillborn birth. A miscarriage is when your baby dies before you are 20 weeks pregnant. A still born is when your baby passes away after you are 20 weeks along.  Both can and will be a horrible time in anyone’s life.

Also, alcohol is not the only factor is a miscarriage or stillborn death. There are many other reasons this may happen, but I am just talking about alcohol consumption right now.

Birth defects

Your child may suffer from birth defects such as heart issues or vision and hearing problems that might last for the duration of their lifetime. Your child may also look different and cause your baby to function differently.

The main defects associated with alcohol consumption are connected mostly with nervous system functions and anatomy, including, for example, abnormal development of the central nervous system, craniofacial abnormalities. At the same time other baby’s organs may suffer too.

Low birth weight

I can’t say that this is actually a “bad” thing, but low birth weight is another thing that can be caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. I am in no way saying to drink for a smaller baby, but I think I speak on behalf of majority if not all women that a 6 pound baby would feel better delivering than a 9 pound baby.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

There is also Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). This can cause issues for your child anywhere from just birth, part of their life or for the duration of their time on earth.  FAS can show signs as early as birth with some distinct facial features such as small eyes, thin upper lip, or spacing with the eyes.

If your child is FAS, they may have growth problems, sleep problems, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, learning disorders, memory problems, issues paying attention, behavior issues, troubles seeing the consequences for their actions, social and relationship dysfunction or as far as a congenital heart defect.

I personally know many people on different spectrums of FAS. They are amazing people no matter what functioning level they are at. This doesn’t make anyone “less than.” This just examine what FAS can do to someone. Someone may have FAS and you would never ever be able to tell while other people would need to have assistance for the rest of their life.

Withdrawal symptoms

On a side note, a newborn baby can suffer from alcohol withdrawals/detox. This can cause restlessness, troubles falling or staying asleep, excessive crying, tremors/seizures, and sometimes pain.

How alcohol enters the baby’s bloodstream

Quick “anatomy lesson.” What mama consumes while pregnant, whether it be medication, water, beer, chips, apples, whatever enters into her body and gets passed to the placenta. The placenta then delivers it through the umbilical cord directly to baby.

The umbilical cord not only supply’s the fetus with oxygen and nutrients, but also delivers various waste products from fetus to the mother’s organism.

Obviously 100% of whatever it is doesn’t go to baby, but in some form, an unknown amount of what you consume reaches baby.

The placenta by the way grows in the uterus (womb) and its job is to supply baby with nutrients and oxygen during pregnancy.

So how much is too much?

So, what about the saying that one glass of wine a day is fine. I will go back to the research that shows some women who consume a high amount of alcohol have a child that appears fine while another woman who drinks 4 glasses of alcohol a week has a child who is unable to function without assistance for the duration of their life.

There is no 100% research number that will explain exactly how much alcohol for each specific woman will be safe or not safe. So unfortunately, there is no exact answer to consuming alcohol and the only 100% safe way to avoid alcohol related pregnancy and birth issues is to avoid alcohol altogether.

Young woman lying on bar counter with wine glass

Alcohol addictions

Now there is the question about people who binge drink or are addicted to alcohol and as we know about addictions, they are not always easy to kick. If you are suffering from alcohol addiction or dependency, here are some tips to help.

– Get rid of all the alcohol in your house

– Talk with family and friends for support and to let them know that you are no longer drinking and would love their support

– If there are places that trigger you to drink, avoid them as much as possible

– If you know what time of day or reasons why you drink, preplan to replace the alcoholic beverage with something else. If you like a refreshing margarita make a slushy with fruit. If you like White Claw, keep stock on a non-alcoholic sparking seltzer.

– Find an alcoholics anonymous groups to become a part of.

– You may also want to try inpatient treatment. This gives you the option to sign yourself into a facility to have proper care and assistance with detoxing and keeping both you and baby safe while kicking alcohol to the curb.

– There is also outpatient treatment. This is where you sign up and can go weekly or daily to a place to get help, sit in on groups, talk to your “therapist.”

– You can try regular therapy to find the route of your addiction. This can be through a mental health facility or clinic.

– Some areas also offer specific support groups for pregnant women who are addicted to drugs and or alcohol. You should be able to find these groups by an advocate in your area or any support groups you call should be able to give you a list of groups.

Alcohol and Breastfeeding

The last topic I would like to touch on is breastfeeding. The old saying to “pump and dump” after you consume alcohol does nothing to get alcohol out of breast milk. Think of it as drinking and driving. You cannot pee out the alcohol, you have to wait until it has filtered out of your system.

A good rule of thumb is for every standard beer or liquor drink you need 1-2 hours to get it out of your system. So, if you are planning to nurse and consume alcohol, just plan ahead to have stored milk available or drink between feedings if you can. Otherwise you can also abstain from drinking all together.

Have a look at the available manual breast pump on Amazon.

Pregnancy and Alcohol – Summary

I hope you find this informative and get some good advice.

There is no perfect way to talk about this topic or exact method to avoid any types of birth defects. I mean 3-5% of all women nationwide are said to have a child with some type of birth defect. For my personal self, I don’t want to add to that percentage. I am gonna abstain from all alcohol consumption so I can have peace of mind.

Even if 10 years from now we learn that certain alcohol is good for pregnant women, I don’t know that to a certainty right now.  Abstinence is the only 100% certain way to avoid alcohol-related pregnancy issues.

Sorry ladies.

Group of people drinking wine

The Strengthening Families Program / My Strong Family

Stuff4Tots comment:  Thanks to Jillian for a great article. It’s tough to make a serious subject like this a little less initimidating but, as always, Jillian has hit the right tone – balancing being informative with being entertaining.

We, of course, have to point out that none of this is medical advice and is just for informational purposes only.

If anyone is part of, or knows of, a family affected by alcohol or drugs we strongly recommend you check out the Strengthening Families Program.  You can go to their website or read our article about it here.

They cover a lot of topics such as:

  • How drinking can affect those around us
  • Teaching your children about alcohol
  • The effect alcohol has on different age groups

They are sponsored by big drinks companies such as DrinkIQ and Diageo.

In the UK a Strengthening Families Program (SFP) pilot was rolled out under the name My Strong Family.

Well worth checking out.

Drink sensibly now! 🙂

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Jillian Robinson - one of the Stuff4Tots editorial team
Jillian Robinson (RN)

Jillian is a registered nurse and mom of two.  Her eldest being a teenager and her youngest a toddler.  The wide spread of ages, coupled with her medical background, give Jillian a unique insight into the challenges and joys families and parents face at each stage of life's journey.

Dr Dmitro - radiologist
Dr Dmitro Kyiashko

Dr Dmitro is doctor-radiologist and a freelance writer. He is passionate about medicine, writing, and music.

Dr Dmitro graduated from the National Pirogov Memorial Medical University, Vinnytsya in 2016 and has since worked for more than 5 years in the various Ukrainian healthcare institutions.  He loves to boost his medical expertise at the same time as partaking in his love for writing.

In hs spare time Dmitro enjoys playing different musical instruments, like drums, guitar and bass.