Alcohol and Pregnancy

People are often confused by what they have heard about alcohol and pregnancy.

Or, they do not feel it is relevant to their situation.  However, with the staggering number of babies born affected each year, it is vital all of us understand the implications.

Alcohol use during pregnancy is a leading preventable cause of intellectual disabilities. Alcohol has the potential of damaging every part of the developing baby, especially the brain.

When a person consumes alcohol it enters their bloodstream. In a pregnant woman the alcohol passes through the placenta and umbilical cord and enters the bloodstream of the fetus.  The alcohol acts as a toxin on tender developing fetal tissue and can cause permanent changes in brain structures, organ systems, and physical development. When changes occur the baby is born with damage that lasts a lifetime.

When a person experiences problems because of this damage, they have a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).  This descriptive term is used to describe a variety of diagnoses caused by fetal alcohol exposure.  When a specific combination of effects exists in the body and neurological system (brain), the person may have the medical diagnosis Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

FASDs are not always apparent at birth and may not be visible on the outside on the body.  The changes caused by the alcohol could lead to a variety of problems ranging from cognitive or learning issues, behavioral problems, attention deficits and social issues.  To learn more about FASDs please visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention FASD website by clicking here or the FASD Centers for Excellence (SAMSHA) website by clicking here.

FASDs affect all socio-economic and ethnic groups and hit all geographic regions. It is estimated that as many as 1 out of every 100 births in the United States have a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The costs of this impact are huge, not only in the human perspective, but also in economic terms.  For a fact sheet on the economic impact of FASDs from the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS), please click here.

People often hear confusing information about the amount and types of alcoholic beverages associated with problems. People also hear confusing information about during which stages of pregnancy alcohol can cause damage.  To learn more about these topics please click on the tabs below.

[accordions title=””  event=”click” disabled=false active=”false” collapsible=”true” autoheight=false] [accordion title=” Amount & Types of Alcohol “]

People often hear confusing information about the amount of alcohol it takes to cause damage and which types of alcoholic beverages are associated with problems.

Some pregnancies appear to be extremely sensitive to the toxic effects of the alcohol and even use of a small amount by mom might be dangerous.  Therefore, in 2005 the Surgeon General of the Unites States proclaimed NO AMOUNT of alcohol is safe to use during pregnancy.  Please click here to read the Surgeon General’s warning.

Wine, beer and hard liquor all have alcohol content.  No beverage that contains alcohol is safe to use during pregnancy, including red wine. In fact, a glass of wine (5 ounces) has about the same amount of alcohol as a bottle of beer (12 ounces) or a shot of hard liquor (1.25 ounces)!  For more information please click here.


[accordion title=” Stages of Pregnancy “]

People are often confused about during which stages of pregnancy alcohol can cause damage to the developing baby.

When fetal tissue is developing it is most likely to be changed or damaged by alcohol exposure.  During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (first trimester) virtually all organ systems (including the brain) and body parts are forming.  Unfortunately many women do not know they are pregnant right away.  However, the toxic effects of the alcohol can begin to change fetal tissue very early.  Just because a woman does not know she is pregnant, DOES NOT mean alcohol is safe.  Therefore, if a woman is planning a pregnancy or might become pregnant, she should not be using alcohol.

While some organs and body parts complete their development fairly early in the pregnancy, the brain continues to develop through the ENTIRE pregnancy, making it vulnerable to damage anytime alcohol is consumed.   Therefore, at no stage of pregnancy is it safe to use alcohol.




For a brief informational fact sheet on alcohol and pregnancy from the NOFAS, please click here.   Or, visit our Resources Page for a list of reputable websites where additional information may be obtained, many of which include free downloadable handouts.

Even if you are not pregnant, you have the ability to impact the life of a future child … simply by spreading this information.   No child ever has to be born again damaged by prenatal alcohol exposure!