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Ask the Experts: Drinking during pregnancy Ask the Experts

Ask the Experts: Drinking during pregnancy

Is it safe to drink an occasional glass of wine during pregnancy?

A: No, says Kenneth Lyons Jones, MD, past president of MotherToBaby, a service of the international nonprofit Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), and the world’s leading researcher on fetal alcohol syndrome. “Women should not drink anything during pregnancy.”

Consuming alcohol while expecting puts your baby at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a certain pattern of birth defects that include a small head and body size, neuro-behavioral developmental defects and specific facial features. Babies who exhibit some, but not all, of the symptoms of FAS may be described as having alcohol-related neuro-developmental defects (ARND) or as being affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Despite more than 40 years of research, the amount of alcohol that is safe during pregnancy has yet to be determined, in large part due to varying genetics and levels of nutrition among moms-to-be. Because it’s difficult to predict how your body and baby will respond to alcohol consumption, it’s widely advised that you abstain.

Although well-meaning friends or family members may suggest enjoying a glass of wine later in pregnancy is safe because most of baby’s development has already taken place, their argument is flawed. “The fact of the matter,” says Jones, “is that the primary effect of alcohol on fetal development is on the brain—and the brain develops throughout all three trimesters of pregnancy.”

If you’re planning to conceive or think there’s a chance you may be pregnant, omit alcohol from your routine. But what if you imbibed before you realized you were with child? The risk of any ill effects is minimal, so it’s not worth agonizing over, assures Jones. However, you should refrain from any further drinking immediately. “If you stop drinking now,” he says, “your chances of having a child who is normal are much, much, much greater than if you continue to drink.”

If you have questions about the effects of alcohol during pregnancy or about your consumption habits, talk to your health care provider or call MotherToBaby at 866-626-6847 for confidential expert counseling. 

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