Can You Drink Alcohol During Pregnancy?

If you drink alcohol while pregnant, the drug can quickly reach your baby by passing through the placenta and umbilical cord. This prenatal alcohol exposure can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birthweight, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

Many people enjoy a glass of wine or two on occasion. While this type of moderate alcohol consumption is safe for some individuals, it’s dangerous for others, including those who are pregnant. Here’s what you should know about alcohol use during pregnancy.

Alcohol Use & Pregnancy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s not safe to drink any amount of alcohol while pregnant. All forms of alcohol, including beer, wine, and liquor, may harm a developing baby.

When you drink, the alcohol can quickly reach your baby by passing through the placenta and umbilical cord. Because unborn babies have underdeveloped livers, they are extremely sensitive to alcohol. As a result, prenatal alcohol exposure can lead to a variety of problems, including:


A miscarriage occurs when a developing baby dies before the 20th week of pregnancy. Even small amounts of alcohol can greatly increase your risk of miscarriage.


A stillbirth occurs when a developing baby dies after the 20th week of pregnancy. While most stillbirths happen before labor, some happen during labor or birth. Studies show that drinking alcohol while pregnant can increase your risk of stillbirth by 40%. 

Premature Birth

A premature birth occurs when your baby is born before the 37th week of pregnancy. Premature babies face a higher risk of numerous health issues, including:

  • cerebral palsy
  • trouble feeding
  • trouble breathing
  • problems with vision or hearing

Low Birthweight

The average newborn baby weighs about 8 pounds. Babies are considered to have a low birthweight if they weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. A low birthweight increases your baby’s risk of health issues such as:

  • infection
  • trouble feeding and gaining weight
  • trouble staying warm
  • digestive problems
  • breathing problems
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

Many alcohol-exposed babies develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). These conditions can cause a variety of alcohol-related birth defects and behavioral problems, including:

  • heart defects
  • problems with the kidneys or bones
  • poor vision or hearing
  • small head size
  • short height
  • low body weight
  • poor muscle tone
  • movement and balance problems
  • communication and speech problems
  • learning disabilities
  • poor attention span, hyperactivity, and impulsivity
  • poor social skills
  • difficulty managing emotions

The most severe type of FASD is called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). 

Symptoms & Prognosis

Common symptoms of FAS include:

  • poor growth before and after birth
  • joint, limb, or finger deformities
  • distinctive facial features, including wide-set and narrow eyes, an upturned nose, a thin upper lip, and a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip

When supported by their communities, people with FASDs can lead healthy, fulfilling lives. 

However, without proper assistance, they may develop complications such as substance misuse, difficulty staying employed, and mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

How To Protect Your Baby From Alcohol-Related Problems

The more you drink, the higher your baby’s risk of alcohol-related issues. 

That’s why it’s essential to avoid all forms of alcohol abuse, including binge drinking while pregnant, (having more than 4 alcoholic drinks in about 2 hours) and heavy drinking (having more than 3 drinks per day or more than 7 drinks per week).

Even low-level alcohol consumption can harm a developing baby. 

Avoid Alcohol Altogether 

To keep your baby safe, avoid all alcohol while pregnant or trying to become pregnant. If you have been consuming alcohol because you did not realize you were pregnant, stop drinking right away. The sooner you quit alcohol, the safer your baby will be.

If you feel unable to stop drinking, you may have alcohol use disorder (also called alcohol addiction). This disease makes you feel unable to control your alcohol consumption despite negative consequences. Other common symptoms include:

  • frequent cravings for alcohol
  • tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent drinks to feel the desired effects)
  • physical dependence (experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and nausea, when you don’t drink)
  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • isolation
  • loss of motivation
  • loss of interest in activities once enjoyed

If you experience these symptoms, seek help at an alcohol abuse treatment program. 

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Available on an inpatient or outpatient basis, alcohol rehab programs offer services such as:

  • medical detox, in which doctors help you stop drinking alcohol with minimal withdrawal symptoms
  • behavioral therapy, in which a therapist helps you manage alcohol cravings and other psychological effects of alcohol addiction
  • support groups, in which you can discuss your experiences and coping strategies with other people in recovery
  • aftercare planning, in which your treatment team identifies strategies to reduce your risk of relapse, such as ongoing therapy, regular exercise, and assistance with education, employment, or housing

To learn more about alcohol addiction treatment, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer personalized, evidence-based care to keep you or your loved one healthy.

  1. Alcohol Research and Health
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  4. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus
  5. Pediatrics Child Health

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: October 19, 2023

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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