Expectant mothers have received mixed messages regarding the safety of drinking alcoholic beverages on very rare occasions while pregnant. Here’s what all families need to know about pregnancy and alcohol consumption.
First thing’s first: nobody is in disagreement about whether or not binge drinking or drinking frequently while pregnant is acceptable. It’s not, and it will undoubtedly lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, resulting in lifelong consequences for the unborn child. However, at various times in the last few decades, the idea has been floated that drinking very occasionally while pregnant is not a big deal, and is probably fine. As you can imagine, this is a potentially very dangerous notion for people to believe, especially considering the stakes involved.
Of course, most pregnant women have no desire to endanger their pregnancy or future child. In most instances, it’s a case of wondering whether “that one glass of champagne at your sister’s wedding” will actually do any harm. The fact of the matter is, there’s just not a whole lot of research done on what small amounts of alcohol do to the fetus or pregnant mother. That’s due in part to the fact that we have rather conclusively determined that frequent drinking (or isolated instances of copious drinking) can irreparably harm the baby. Therefore, determining the exact amount of alcohol at which harm begins to occur seems less important than educating prospective parents on the dangers of pregnant drinking.
Dr. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer is a professor and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas. On this topic, she states that “Nobody can quantify what [the] risk [of very light drinking while pregnant] is. It [the risk] is most likely low on the basis of the information we currently have, but you can’t be promised that and you don’t know that.” Along the same lines of thinking as Dr. Horsage-Boehrer is the CDC, which released an official position last year pleading for total abstinence from alcohol for expecting moms.
Babies cannot metabolize alcohol, and fetuses even less so. When you drink while pregnant, that alcohol travels through the fetus, remaining in their system for much longer than it does for us fully functioning adults. This alcohol begins to do all kinds of harm, including irreversible brain damage. Babies born on the fetal alcohol spectrum often have disfigured facial features and learning disabilities that can stay with them for a lifetime.
Still think you can ride the fine line between having just a tiny drink and not hurting your baby? Think again. The only way to ensure that an unborn baby is not harmed by alcohol is to abstain for the duration of your pregnancy — and for the time being, find a different way to unwind after a long day of work. Who knows, your new habits might even continue after the big day!