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Can Women Drink Wine During Pregnancy?

Drinking any alcohol during pregnancy can be very harmful to your baby. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that no amount of alcohol is safe for pregnant women.1 While a glass of wine may sound like a more responsible choice than a beer or shot, all alcohol contains the same chemical.

Wine and other types of alcohol can give you a buzz because they have ethyl alcohol or ethanol. This is a toxin to your body, including to your growing baby.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you avoid alcohol if you’re:

  • Pregnant
  • Trying to get pregnant or think you might be pregnant

How Many Glasses of Wine is Safe to Drink During Pregnancy?

It is not safe to drink wine or any other type of alcohol if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Wine is not safer to drink than other forms of alcohol, like spirits.

There are reported instances of midwives suggesting the occasional glass of red wine for stress relief.4 There are also beliefs that red wine in small amounts may be beneficial for fetal circulation.

However, certain risks, such as miscarriage and low birth weight, increased in women who consumed as little as an ounce of alcohol daily.

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What Does Science Say About Drinking Wine During Pregnancy?

Studies on the health risks of drinking alcohol in pregnancy go back decades. The same outcomes from alcohol and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are found around the world.

A 2013 British study is renowned as groundbreaking.6 It assessed nearly 7,000 children who were ten years old and had mothers who self-reported different levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Most reported little to no consumption of drinking alcohol.

The study discovered that light to moderate drinking had no adverse effect on the balance of the children. It also found that higher amounts of drinking linked to better balance.6

However, there are several issues with this study. There were other factors, such as socioeconomic ones, to consider, although the study did try to adjust for these.

Two, the study only assessed balance and not other common indicators of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

However, this study seems to contradict earlier ones that showed that poorer balance is linked with drinking during pregnancy.7 The study investigators also mention this.

It is also essential to understand that alcohol has been linked to different problems during pregnancy. Research by healthcare company Kaiser Permanente discovered that the risk of having a miscarriage is highest if you drink alcohol in the first ten weeks of pregnancy.5

Dangers of Drinking Wine While Pregnant

Some types of issues during pregnancy and birth are associated with alcohol but may not be classified as strictly alcohol-related birth problems.

These include:

  • Miscarriage
  • Slower growth in the womb
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight

Drinking wine while breastfeeding your baby can also result in problems.

There may be a link between drinking wine and issues like:

  • Low breastmilk production
  • Poor sleeping patterns for your baby
  • Poor infant development

Drinking wine during pregnancy may also lead to other issues that can begin later in your child’s life. These include at-risk behaviors and social problems.

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy may give your child an increased risk of:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Aggression
  • Inappropriate social conduct
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Alcohol or drug misuse
  • Employment issues
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors
  • Accidents
  • Suicide
  • Early death

How Can Alcohol Negatively Affect a Growing Baby? 

When a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, it can enter the bloodstream through the placenta to the baby. The baby may receive a higher blood concentration than you do as their developing body cannot get rid of it as fast as you can.

Alcohol may block some of the oxygen and nutrition your baby requires for healthy growth. In some cases, alcohol can slow or harm organ growth and lead to permanent brain damage in a developing baby. 

These alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD) are more prevalent in cases of excessive alcohol consumption.

What Is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Most fetal health problems linked to alcohol are known by the term fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Each year, up to 40,000 babies are born with an FASD in the United States.10 

FASD is used to describe any condition that develops as an occurrence of a pregnant woman’s alcohol use.

One 2017 study found that one of every 13 pregnant women who drank alcohol had a baby with some form of FASD.3

Many European women famously drink wine throughout their pregnancies. However, the same 2017 study found that Europe has the highest overall percentage of babies born with FASD.

Some babies with FASDs may look healthy but have issues with:

  • Body coordination
  • Behavior
  • Learning
  • Attention and focus
  • Understanding consequences

The most severe type of FASD is fetal alcohol syndrome. 

This condition may lead to:

  • Smaller head size
  • Abnormal facial features (small eyes; short, upturned nose; thin upper lip)
  • Lower-than-average height
  • Lower-than-average weight
  • Vision issues
  • Hearing problems
  • Heart defects
  • Kidney issues
  • Bone problems
  • Smaller brain

Fetal death is the most extreme and severe outcome to occur from drinking alcohol while pregnant. 

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) represents the most overt presentation of the FASD spectrum. The syndrome can occur from excessive alcohol consumption, binge drinking, or regular alcohol use during pregnancy.

Children with FAS may have:

  • Central nervous system (CNS) problems
  • Abnormal facial features
  • Growth complications
  • Problems with memory, attention span, hearing, learning, or vision

Those with FAS may have a combination of these problems. The effects are irreversible and last a lifetime. However, FAS is completely preventable if a pregnant woman abstains from drinking red wine and other types of alcohol.

How to Avoid Alcohol During Pregnancy

It may not be as challenging as you think to avoid alcohol entirely during pregnancy. Many women even go off the taste of alcohol during early pregnancy.

Most women give up alcohol once they realize they are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Women who discover they are pregnant after already having drunk alcohol in early pregnancy should stop drinking further.

However, they should try not to worry as the risks of their child being affected are likely to be low. If you are concerned, speak with a midwife or doctor.

If you suffer from alcohol addiction or have concerning drinking habits, research has proven that treatment can be very effective in helping people become sober.9 Treatment usually involves a combination of private and group counseling sessions, behavioral therapies, support groups, and medications.

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Resources

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  1. Alcohol and Women, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, August 2015
  2. Alcohol Use in Pregnancy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  3. Lange, Shannon et al. “Global Prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Among Children and Youth: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” JAMA pediatrics vol. 171,10 (2017): 948-956
  4. Crawford-Williams, Fiona et al. “"My midwife said that having a glass of red wine was actually better for the baby": a focus group study of women and their partner's knowledge and experiences relating to alcohol consumption in pregnancy.” BMC pregnancy and childbirth vol. 15 79. 1 Apr. 2015
  5. Avalos, Lyndsay Ammon et al. “Volume and type of alcohol during early pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage.” Substance use & misuse vol. 49,11 (2014): 1437-45
  6. Humphriss, Rachel et al. “Prenatal alcohol exposure and childhood balance ability: findings from a UK birth cohort study.” BMJ open vol. 3,6 e002718. 20 Jun. 2013
  7. Willford, Jennifer A et al. “Effects of prenatal tobacco, alcohol and marijuana exposure on processing speed, visual-motor coordination, and interhemispheric transfer.” Neurotoxicology and teratology vol. 32,6 (2010): 580-8
  8. Drinking alcohol while pregnant, National Health Service (NHS), January 2020
  9. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), March 2021
  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015
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