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Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be extremely harmful to your baby. Since alcohol in the mother's blood crosses the placenta and enters the fetus through the umbilical cord, everything you drink, your baby drinks, too. Not all women who drink during pregnancy will have a child born with fetal alcohol syndrome, but avoiding alcohol is the only sure way to protect your baby from fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Pregnancy and Alcohol: An Introduction

There is no known safe level of alcohol during pregnancy. There is also no safe time during the course of pregnancy to drink alcohol. Alcohol can have negative effects on a fetus in every trimester of pregnancy. Everything you drink, your baby also drinks.
 
It is best not to drink alcohol at all if:
 
  • You are trying to get pregnant
  • There is a chance you could possibly be pregnant
  • You are pregnant.
     
Drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of your baby developing fetal alcohol syndrome or other fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
 

What Are the Effects?

Alcohol in the mother's blood crosses the placenta freely and enters the embryo or fetus through the umbilical cord. Alcohol exposure in the first 3 months of pregnancy can cause structural defects (for example, facial changes). Growth problems and problems in the baby's central nervous system can occur due to alcohol consumption at any time during pregnancy. The baby's brain is developing throughout pregnancy -- it can be damaged at any time.
 
It is unlikely that one mechanism can explain the harmful effects of alcohol on the developing fetus. For example, brain images of some people with fetal alcohol syndrome show that certain areas of the brain have not developed normally. The images show that certain cells are not in their proper place and that tissues have died in some areas.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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