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Pregnant Women Should Avoid Alcohol Throughout Pregnancy, Says Clinical Report

Last updated Oct. 24, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

According to a recent survey by the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, USA, 18% of women reported drinking alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy and some continue to drink throughout pregnancy.


A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) categorically states that a woman should not consume alcohol during pregnancy and that “no amount of alcohol should be considered safe to drink during any trimester of pregnancy.”

Maternal drinking is a rising problem around the world. In the USA, alcohol use and binge drinking is prevalent in 10% of women in childbearing age. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) are a range of disorders that occur when a fetus is exposed to alcohol during gestation. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it passes from the mother’s blood to the fetus through the umbilical cord, exposing the developing fetus to the ill effects of alcohol.

According to a recent survey by the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, USA, 18% of women reported drinking alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy and some continue to drink throughout pregnancy. When a woman drinks alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy, she increases the likelihood of a child with FASDs by 12 fold; the number goes up to 61 fold when a woman drinks alcohol in the first two trimesters and to 65 times likelihood when she drinks in all three trimesters.

Since a fetus continues to develop physically as well as in the brain and related nerve circuitry throughout pregnancy, the consequences of a mother’s drinking could be physical abnormalities in a child, as well as compromised neurocognitive functions. Some potential abnormalities in a child born with FASDs are listed below:

  • Physical:
    • Abnormal facial features
    • Short stature
    • Small head size
    • Low body weight
    • Poor movement coordination
    • Bone, joint problems
  • Neurocognitive:
    • Attention deficiency
    • Poor memory
    • Learning disabilities
    • Delay in speech and language development
    • Trouble with Mathematics
    • Vision issues
    • Problems with hearing perception
    • Low IQ
    • Heart defects
    • Genital defects
    • Kidney problems

Reportedly, it is not easy to treat FASDs, although early intervention and therapy could help mitigate some of the problems and symptoms. However, some reports state that because the effects of FASDs last throughout one’s life, an individual with FASDs is unlikely to lead a completely independent life. Beginning in the teenage years, those suffering from FASDs potentially become prone to drug and alcohol abuse, aggressive behavior, and depression.

Given the multitude of problems a person with FASDs could face, the solution to avoiding FASDs seems rather simple and rooted in common sense. “The research suggests that the smartest choice for women who are pregnant is to just abstain from alcohol completely,” says the lead author, Dr. Williams, in the AAP Press report.


Written by Mangala Sarkar, Ph.D.

Primary References

Williams, J., & Smith, V. (2015). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Pediatrics. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-3113

AAP Says No Amount of Alcohol Should be Considered Safe During Pregnancy. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2015, from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Says-No-Amount-of-Alcohol-Should-be-Considered-Safe-During-Pregnancy.aspx

Additional References

Maternal Risk Factors for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Not As Simple As It Might Seem. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh341/15-26.htm

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. (2015, July 27). Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/

Survey finds ongoing concerns with alcohol use during pregnancy - January 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://fasdcenter.samhsa.gov/askTheExpert/Jan2014.aspx

May, P., Blankenship, J., Marais, A., Gossage, J., Kalberg, W., Joubert, B., . . . Seedat, S. (2013). Maternal alcohol consumption producing fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD): Quantity, frequency, and timing of drinking. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 133(2), 502-512.

Facts about FASDs. (2015, April 16). Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/facts.html

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/en/healthaz/conditionsanddiseases/brainandnervoussystemdisorders/pages/fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorder-fasd.aspx

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Oct. 24, 2015
Last updated: Oct. 24, 2015