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Alcohol Use During Pregnancy

by Landmark Recovery

October 12, 2020
A pregnant woman holding her belly. Alcohol during pregnancy is extremely dangerous and should be avoided


Alcohol is a teratogen, a substance that can cause mild to severe malformations of the embryo. Although it is well-documented that drinking during pregnancy can cause adverse effects for both the pregnant woman and the fetus, it’s still an alarmingly common practice.


Despite a century’s worth of warnings, between 15 and 20 percent of women continue to drink during pregnancy.


Who is at Risk?

A pregnant woman holding her belly. Alcohol during pregnancy is extremely dangerous and should be avoided

Surprisingly, drinking during pregnancy isn’t necessarily limited to women struggling with alcohol addiction and dependency. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), the practice of “risky drinking” is a risk factor for alcohol use during pregnancy.


For reproductive-aged women, risky drinking is defined as consuming more than seven drinks per week, or more than three in one sitting. Although risky drinking is not the same as dependence or abuse, it still can cause problems for women who become pregnant. This is because most women don’t realize they’re pregnant until after the eight-week mark, also known as the embryonic stage of pregnancy. In light of this statistic, women who have a chance of becoming pregnant or who are actively trying to conceive are advised to cut down on risky drinking behaviors.


Women who are most likely to drink alcohol during pregnancy also experience risk factors such as homelessness, poverty, comorbid psychiatric illnesses, and a personal history of physical and/or sexual abuse, especially during childhood. Risk factors can also include the preconceptions of what it means to be a substance user, especially for women who don’t identify themselves as having a problem with alcohol consumption.


The Consequences of Drinking While Pregnant

According to Arizona State University’s Embryo Project Encyclopedia, alcohol use during pregnancy results in embryonic developmental abnormalities that vary based on the severity, duration, and frequency of alcohol exposure during the gestational period. Such defects are influenced not only by the dose of alcohol but also by the mother’s genetics, metabolism, and the timing of alcohol exposure.


In these first days and weeks, alcohol consumption may inhibit the fertilized egg from adhering to the uterus wall, resulting in early pregnancy loss. As the fetus develops, continued alcohol use can cause miscarriage or even stillbirth.


Even for the fetuses that reach maturity, a range of disorders may affect them after delivery. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FASD) can include issues such as:


  • Decreased growth, both as a fetus and during childhood development
  • Problems with cognition and motor coordination
  • Abnormal development of the heart, kidneys, and skeleton
  • Facial and cranial malformations
  • Issues with the central nervous system
  • Behavioral challenges that often linger into adulthood


These are just a handful of the many problems that can occur due to fetal alcohol use.


The CDC states that there is no amount of alcohol that is safe for consumption during any part of pregnancy. But even if you drank alcohol while you were unknowingly pregnant, it is not too late to stop.


If you are pregnant or suspect you might be pregnant, Landmark Recovery can help you stop using alcohol. Let us help you choose wellness, both for yourself and your unborn child. You don’t have to do it alone. Reach out today to find out how to get started.


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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.