When it comes to drinking while pregnant, The Centers for Disease Control states there is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy. It is imperative for women thinking of becoming pregnant to stop drinking alcohol, and at no time during pregnancy is it safe to drink alcohol.

All types of alcohol, including wine and beer, are unacceptable for use during pregnancy. For women who continue to drink alcohol during pregnancy, there is a risk of their baby developing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). 

Drinking While Pregnant Overview

The first 3 months of pregnancy are vital to fetal development, and alcohol use during this crucial point during development can cause abnormal facial features and other serious complications. Drinking while pregnant is unarguably dangerous, and many women may not realize they are pregnant until the end of the first trimester.

To avoid the possibility of FASD, women having unprotected sex need to remain sober or stop drinking immediately if there is any chance of pregnancy. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides a study done by the CDC that reveals that from 2018 to 2020, nearly 14% of pregnant women ages 18 to 49 reported drinking alcohol currently. 

Drinking while pregnant can result in FASD, resulting in interference with the fetus’ developing brain, major organs, and physiological functioning. Therefore, binge drinking or continual heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy puts a baby at risk for congenital disabilities and lifelong struggles with cognitive and physical issues.

The central nervous system is affected by alcohol use by the mother during pregnancy. Low birth weights and behavioral problems can occur throughout childhood from alcohol use at this crucial time in development. The ramifications of drinking while pregnant can carry throughout the lifetime of a baby.

Miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature birth are dangers associated with alcohol use during pregnancy. Unfortunately, some babies are born to mothers with alcohol use disorder and must be tapered off alcohol with medication. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) supported a study that 1 to 5% of first-grade children have FASD.

Risks of Drinking While Pregnant: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)

Prenatal alcohol exposure at any point of development causes a high-risk potential for a range of physical, cognitive, and behavioral abnormalities within the umbrella of FASDs. Drinking while pregnant at any point after conception can expose the developing fetus to the possibility of adverse lifelong complications.

Women who are pregnant need to stop using alcohol as soon as they confirm pregnancy. Treatment centers with detox programs for women only are beneficial for women who are pregnant and can help prevent the development of FASD.

Types of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders include the following:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder
  • Alcohol-related congenital disabilities
  • A neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure

How Alcohol Affects the Developing Fetus

Alcohol usage crosses over to the unborn baby through the mother’s blood in the umbilical cord to expose the developing central nervous system to alcohol contamination. Structural damage can occur to the baby’s brain in terms of small brain size and alterations of brain regions. Functional deficits from alcohol affecting the CNS can affect the fetus with cognitive, behavioral, and motor coordination problems.

Drinking while pregnant causes FASD to develop, which also affects the growth factors of a baby and can cause facial deformities. In some cases, the fetus does not survive in the womb, with a risk of stillbirth or miscarriage. Premature labor is also a risk.

Women who are drinking while pregnant need to consider that prenatal alcohol exposure is the cause of congenital disabilities and neurodevelopmental disorders the child will have to cope with over their lifetime. Children who experience alcohol exposure in the womb can experience educational and mental health challenges, social adversity, and stigmatization because of their FASD.

Baby’s characteristics and development after being exposed to alcohol in the womb include:

  • Abnormal physical features
  • Challenges with learning and memory
  • Inability to focus, comprehend, and follow directions
  • Short attention span
  • Lack of emotional control and unusually impulsive
  • Lack of communication skills and social skills
  • Risk of developing depression and anxiety
  • Typical daily tasks and personal care habits are a challenge

Effects of Drinking While Pregnant

Research determines that, without a doubt, drinking while pregnant is detrimental to the fetus and can result in developing FASDs. The effects of alcohol exposure on the unborn infant carry lifelong disabilities.

The best action for the mother is to seek help from a healthcare provider when reaching out for prenatal care. Unfortunately, healthcare providers may stigmatize pregnant mothers who drink, which may deter the initiation of prenatal care and treatment. 

A list of more specific effects on the fetus of drinking while pregnant includes the following: 

  • A smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip (smooth philitrum)
  • Small head circumference
  • Shorter than average height
  • Low birth weight
  • Lack of typical coordination
  • Hyperactive behaviors or poor attention span
  • Poor memory
  • Problematic school behavior and learning
  • Low IQ and intellectual disabilities
  • Flawed reasoning and judgment skills
  • Speech and language delays
  • Sleep and sucking problems as an infant
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Heart, kidney, and bone issues

Signs of Alcoholism During Pregnancy

Women drinking while pregnant experience shame and demoralization. It is doubtful that women will expose their drinking when and if they seek prenatal care for their baby to avoid the stigma attached.

Drinking alcohol could be an integral part of their coping mechanism to relieve negative feelings and distress from unaddressed childhood trauma, domestic violence, and low economic status. Women who drink alcohol while pregnant increase their risk of maternal mortality. 

Another extreme interference with prenatal care is the fear, guilt, and shame women who are drinking while pregnant experience. They fear losing custody of their child if the alcohol use disorder is found.

Often, women with alcohol use disorders are struggling economically and lack the means of transportation to receive proper prenatal care. Those with alcohol use disorders may have adversely affected cognitive issues, which interfere with typical decision-making. 

Why Treatment Matters

Treatment matters because there is always hope for recovery for the mother and improving conditions for the unborn child. Professional medically monitored alcohol detox is recommended for pregnant women with an alcohol use disorder.

Behavioral therapy after detox can teach new coping mechanisms to help with sobriety and the best outcomes for the baby and mother. Family and group support therapy is another beneficial form of treatment for pregnant women to reinforce sobriety and the best care for the new life. 

Quality Alcohol Detox Programs for Pregnant Women In Tennessee

Fighting shame, guilt, and fear to seek treatment for an alcohol use disorder during pregnancy is the bravest thing a woman can achieve. Detox West in Tennessee offers a safe and effective alcohol detox program for women, which, during pregnancy, could be beneficial. Ending alcohol use as soon as pregnancy is discovered provides the best chance for the fetus.

Contact the admissions office for more information and how to receive an assessment.