The inconvenient truth about alcohol and pregnancy

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It’s an age-old controversy, fueled as much by superstition, hearsay and wives’ tales as it is by science. Conventional wisdom dictates that even a drop of alcohol during pregnancy could be dangerous to a baby’s future physical and mental well-being. Yet there are plenty of anecdotes circulating that claim that an occasional glass of wine, even in the last trimester, is no big deal. You’ve probably heard some of them; they usually go, “I mean, Mrs. So-and-So drank Guinness every week during her pregnancy and her kids are just fine.”


There is some evidence to support these claims. In a 2010 survey of American obstretricians, more than 30 percent said that occasional alcohol consumption during pregnancy was safe. Another study of 2,900 pregnant women found that light drinking during pregnancy showed no increase in behavioral problems over the first 14 years of a child’s life. Still another study published in 2013 in the International Journal of Obstretrics and Gynaecology states that “drinking not more than one or two units of alcohol per week during pregnancy is not linked to developmental problems in early-mid childhood.” The extensively conducted study followed more than 10,000 children in the U.K. until they were seven.

The flip side

Yet despite the possibility that a beer once a while might not be so bad, the possible negative consequences are nothing short of terrifying. Roughly 40,000 children in the U.S. are born with disorders derived from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. More than 80 percent of them may never be able to lead fully independent lives according to an article by Time. The Mayo Clinic links Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to everything from learning disabilities and memory problems to lung defects, poor judgement and growth difficulties. Many of the symptoms don’t manifest until later in life and none of them are reversible.

Much of this is due to the fact that a fetus, unlike an adult human, has no safe way to break down alcohol. Consequently, it retains the toxins in its body for much too long, allowing them to wreak havoc on cognitive development and other functions. As a result, Tom Donaldson, at the time president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome told USA Today flatly, “that risk begins with any use.”

And as this article in Time points out, there’s no solid evidence that drinking might have a positive effect on pregnancy. At best, it might not do damage, but it’s certainly not going to help anything. At worst, it carries a terrible risk.

Looking for a doctor for your OB/GYN, WOMEN – GYNECOLOGYquestions? We recommend:
Thewin Dejthevaporn, M.D. Thewin Dejthevaporn, M.D.
Pulmonary Critical Care, Samitivej Hospital
Questions about your pregnancy, child birth or life with an infant? Ask the Doctor!

What should you do?

At the end of the day, the safest decision is still probably to abstain from alcohol entirely. If you’re actively attempting to become pregnant, it may be worth cutting back or avoiding drinking, especially since alcohol’s effects are most devastating during the first trimester.

Photo Credit: r.nial.bradshaw via Compfight cc

Expecting Expats is the online resource for parents in and around Thailand.

We provide lifestyle and medical content to our visitors, with new content posted daily. Our lifestyle contributors are themselves expat moms who share their experiences and lessons learned through blog articles. We also provide medical content from our partner doctors at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. Articles of interest span from before pregnancy through the toddler years and cover medical, behavioral and cognitive issues.

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