Is it okay to have an occasional glass of wine while pregnant? Here's what the experts say
- You should not drink during
pregnancy, since it can harm your baby and may cause birth defects.
- Small studies have found no adverse effects with light drinking — but experts still advise against it.
- Some risks to your baby include low birth weight, vision problems, and cognitive impairments.
There are many parts of your life that may change during pregnancy, including your drinking habits.
Turns out, while heavy drinking is universally discouraged for pregnant women, some studies have found that it might be safe to have a glass of wine once in a while.
However, most healthcare providers still advise against any alcohol during pregnancy. The reason being that prenatal alcohol exposure is the leading cause of preventable birth defects in the US, and disorders associated with alcohol use during pregnancy are estimated to affect about 1% to 5% of first-grade children.
Here's what the research says about alcohol and how it may affect the fetus.
Is it safe to drink wine while pregnant?
Guidance from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is clear — no amount of alcohol is considered safe during pregnancy.
This guidance is based on research showing an increased risk of birth defects and developmental disabilities in babies whose mothers drank during pregnancy.
A 2013 review found that any amount of alcohol may put a baby at risk of developmental challenges — but this risk may increase the more a pregnant person drinks.
But when it comes to sipping an occasional glass of wine during pregnancy, the science is less settled and more data is needed, says Samir Hage, DO, an OB-GYN with Redlands Community Hospital. Some studies suggest light drinking during pregnancy may not be all that harmful:
- A 2012 study found no meaningful difference between the executive functioning of five-year-olds whose mothers drank moderately during pregnancy and those who didn't. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as one drink a day or less for women.
- Another large 2013 study of almost 7,000 ten-year-olds found no evidence of adverse effects among children whose mothers drank seven or fewer drinks a week during pregnancy.
However, this doesn't mean light drinking during pregnancy poses no risk. Alcohol is still a drug that can harm both the pregnant person and the fetus when consumed in any quantity, says Matthew Fore, MD, an OB-GYN with Providence St. Joseph Hospital.
"While [these] are interesting ideas and studies, I do not think that individual studies alone can be used to dissuade or disprove mountains of evidence that point to the harms that go along with drinking during pregnancy," Fore says.
There isn't enough data yet to draw definitive conclusions about low levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, Hage says, but the best way to steer clear of any alcohol-related risk is to just avoid it altogether.
Risks of drinking wine while pregnant
Drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage by about 6%. It also increases the risk of a range of birth defects, developmental delays, and cognitive disorders known as fetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASD), Fore says.
These disorders can cause several different
- Low birth weight
- Facial abnormalities, including a thin upper lip, small eyes, and a smooth area between the nose and upper lip
- Vision or hearing problems
- Small head size
- Intellectual and learning disabilities
- Speech and language delays
- Behavior or learning problems
- Poor memory and coordination
- Hyperactive behavior
- Poor reasoning and judgment skills
The harms of drinking during pregnancy do not just apply to the fetus but can affect the mother too, Hage says. Some of the detriments of alcohol include:
- Harm to the liver.
- An increased risk of injury from falling since drinking can throw off your balance and make walking difficult.
- An increased risk of developing breast cancer.
- An increased risk of death, since alcohol-related mortality represents the third leading cause of preventable death in women in the US.
If you are having trouble abstaining from excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy, talk with your doctor. You can also reach out to Alcoholics Anonymous or a local treatment center.
Some studies suggest that consuming small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy may not cause harm to the fetus, but official recommendations from professional medical organizations, like ACOG, say no amount of alcohol during pregnancy is considered safe.
Drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects, developmental delays, and cognitive impairments in children. Exactly how much alcohol it takes to cause these effects is still unknown, so it's best to not consume alcohol at all during pregnancy.
"There is no recommendation for drinking alcohol during pregnancy, including wine, but there are plenty of recommendations and reasons not to," Fore says. "I believe that the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy far outweigh the benefits."
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