Alcohol is the social drink of choice for many Americans. If you’re one of them, you might sip an occasional glass of wine or beer during a celebration or get-together with friends. You might not even care much for the taste, just the social pleasure and hospitality.
No matter your reason for your occasional drinking, though, there is one celebration you shouldn’t raise a drink to: pregnancy.
Are you confused about the conflicting opinions on drinking during pregnancy? You might have heard from trusted friends, families or even doctors that you can consume small amounts of alcohol, but they may not have all the facts.
In reality, studies aren’t giving anyone a conclusive answer to this long-questioned topic. Sometimes, the research suggests that minimal alcohol has no effect, and other times the drinking causes dangerous problems.
For example, one study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology followed more than 5,500 first-time pregnant mothers. During the course of the study (2004-2011), over half of them reported drinking alcohol during the first three months of pregnancy.
Specifically, 19 percent consumed alcohol occasionally, 25 percent consumed minimally three to seven drinks per week) and 15 percent consumed heavily (more than seven drinks per week). After several years of gathering data, the researchers found that rates of prematurity, low birth weight and pre-eclampsia stayed similar throughout all groups.
On the other end, a more recent 2016 study researched the effects of alcohol consumption before the 32-week mark. In this study published in BMJ Open, researchers reviewed data from 26 different studies.
Unlike the previous example, these researchers saw inconsistent results on alcohol’s effects. However, they did find a correlation between light drinking during pregnancy and pre-term delivery, as well as low birth weight.
For these reasons, the team recommends that expectant mothers stay away from any alcohol during the course of their pregnancy. Again, until researchers can reach a more definite conclusion on the matter, mothers simply shouldn’t take the risk.
Health dangers to baby. While researchers haven’t pinpointed a conclusion on safe prenatal drinking, they do know that too much alcohol holds dangerous risks for the baby. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these risks include:
- Low birth weight
- Sleeping/nursing problems
- Learning disabilities/delays
- Poor vision/hearing
- Medical issues with the heart, kidneys or bones
- Small head/body size
- Abnormal facial features
Why are there so many risks involved with alcohol consumption? Any nutrients the mother takes in during pregnancy get passed onto the baby through the umbilical cord. Unfortunately, alcohol doesn’t provide the baby with essential nutrients and raises the fetal blood alcohol level just as it does the mother. For a growing baby, that level can be toxic, leading to one or more of the above fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).
How much is too much? Despite the health risks to the baby, many expectant mothers in the U.S. still participate in drinking. In fact, according to the most recent CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) report, about one out of every 10 pregnant women are consuming alcohol.
Not every baby will face challenges because of a mother’s drinking. Actually, many women may be encouraged to drink because a friend or family member had a successful pregnancy while consuming alcohol.
However, the problem that medical experts continue to face is that the results are inconsistent. One contributing factor may be the level of enzymes that a mother has to break down the alcohol. Some women may have an increased level, helping them break down the alcohol more quickly and avoiding some dangers to the baby.
On the other hand, a woman with low enzyme levels may actually keep alcohol in her system for a longer time than normal. In this case, the alcohol consumption could harm the baby, and there is no way to tell the potential effect.
In addition, it’s worth noting that major health organizations such as the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend avoiding alcohol entirely during pregnancy. Because researchers have not confirmed the safety of light drinking, pregnant mothers should heed this advice.
Many women like drinking alcohol for social pleasure and celebration. However, researchers have not been able to identify a safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy because the results can vary from person to person. Because of dangerous health problems that alcohol could cause for the baby, mothers simply shouldn’t take the risk. Keep your baby safe and stay away from drinking during pregnancy.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel’s senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. This Fox News piece is used by permission; it also appeared in AskDrManny.com.
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