The world is complicated. Life is complicated. Pregnancy is complicated and stressful. Keep it simple: Don’t drink alcohol during pregnancy. There are few things more detrimental to the development of a fetus than alcohol consumption.
You don’t have to take our word for it. Experts are lined up all over the world seconding this opinion on what is the simplest thing you can do to protect your child.
According to the National Association of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Surgeon General, to name a few, “there is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant.” Evidence-based research concludes that drinking even small amounts of alcohol increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD, refers to a collection of diagnoses that represent the range of effects that can happen to an infant whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. FASD most often involves the infant’s central nervous system. Other common disorders related to FASD include: abnormal facial features, growth problems, intellectual disabilities, and vision and hearing problems to name just a few.
Research concludes that the use of alcohol during pregnancy can cause more harm to the fetus than either heroin or cocaine. One study, cited by The Institute of Medicine, finds that “of all the substances of abuse (including cocaine, heroin, and marijuana) alcohol produces by far the most serious neurobehavioral effects in the fetus.”
A review of the literature produces multiple dissections and justifications for small, measured amounts of alcohol consumption while pregnant. If you look hard enough, you will find those that suggest that moderate amounts of alcohol are not harmful during pregnancy. In her deep dive into the studies on alcohol usage and pregnancy, economist and author, Emily Oster, concludes that light drinking is relatively safe. Yet, she states that she did not drink during her pregnancy.
According to the Society for the Study of Addiction (2019) world‐wide, nearly one in ten (9.8 percent) of women in the general population consume alcohol during pregnancy putting the pregnancyat risk for adverse outcomes. FASD is a life‐long disability that requires assistance from a wide range of service providers including health, community and remedial education. Few estimates for the full range of FASDs are available. However, based on the National Institutes of Health-funded community studies using physical examinations, experts estimate that “the full range of FASDs in the United States and some Western European countries might number as high as 1 to 5 per 100 school children, or 1 to 5 percent of the population. It is worth noting here that when ranked by state, PA is near the top (61 percent) of alcohol usage among women of child-bearing years (18-44).
If you are pregnant and been drinking alcohol during pregnancy, it is never too late to stop. Because brain growth takes place throughout pregnancy, the sooner you stop the better it will be for you and your baby.
September is National Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Awareness Month. Make a promise to yourself and your child. If you are pregnant, don’t drink. If someone you know and love is pregnant, provide support for their decision to remain abstinent. In a very complicated world this is a very simple thing to do.
(Anderson is the substance use disorder prevention education coordinator for the Robinson Counseling Center, an affiliate of the Children’s Service Center. Richards is a school-based substance use disorder specialist for the Children’s Service Center.)