Alcohol and Your Baby
Alcohol is a toxin. Like most toxins, alcohol during pregnancy can cause malformations in your growing baby. There are some parts of a developing baby which are vulnerable to teratogens throughout their entire development. These include their eyes, teeth, external genitalia and their central nervous system (22).
From the moment a fertilised egg implants in your uterus, your baby has a direct link to your bloodstream. For the most part, this is a good thing. That link allows you to give your baby all the nutrition and oxygen it needs to develop and grow. But if you are drinking alcohol, your baby also has a direct pipeline to that glass of wine you are holding. While you may have developed the ability to process alcohol, your baby hasn’t.
It’s not known how much alcohol is safe to drink when you’re pregnant. This knowledge gap exists because it is unethical to put babies at risk by experimenting with alcohol during pregnancy. However, we know that the risk of damage to your baby increases the more you drink, and that binge drinking is especially harmful.
This finding was determined from studies conducted on the children of mothers who have told researchers they consumed alcohol during pregnancy. As we don’t know what level of alcohol consumption is safe for your baby in pregnancy, the safest level of use is zero (22).
Alcohol during pregnancy – what are the risks?
If you drink alcohol during your pregnancy, your baby is at risk of developing Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD is a term that describes a range of disabilities and effects that may arise from prenatal alcohol exposure. The most severe adverse effect of chronic or intermittent heavy maternal alcohol drinking is Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Other potential adverse effects include miscarriage, low birth weight, and attention and learning difficulties (23). For more information about FASD, please click here.
If you drank small amounts of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, be reassured that the risk of harm to your baby is low. Once you know you’re pregnant, it’s safest to stop drinking alcohol entirely for the rest of your pregnancy and while you’re breastfeeding. This action will increase your baby’s chances of being healthy.
If you’re breastfeeding, you shouldn’t drink alcohol, particularly in the first month. Alcohol is found in breast milk at a concentration of approximately 10% greater than blood.
Dr Janelle McAlpine (PhD), Clinical Midwife
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