How Much Alcohol is Too Much During Pregnancy

Taking care of a baby is the biggest concern for all pregnant women. There is much information available on how to keep healthy during pregnancy, such as by taking prenatal vitamins, eating a healthy diet and visiting the doctor regularly. But there is one topic that continues to be debated; how much alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy?

No Easy Answer for Expecting Moms

Medical experts and doctors have varying opinions about how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy. And, don’t expect advice to be the same from region to region. In the United Kingdom, for example, having an occasional drink during pregnancy isn’t quite as taboo as it is here in the U.S. Women in the states are either told not to drink at all or that it is okay to have the occasional drink after the first trimester. So, how much is too much?

Unfortunately, things aren’t quite as black and white when dealing with this topic. For example, why don’t all women who abuse alcohol during their pregnancies have children with mental or physical handicaps, such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)? And what about women who may have become pregnant unexpectedly? Does alcohol use in the early months means that a woman won’t have a healthy baby?

Why ‘One Drink’ Scare Tactics are Dangerous

These questions are very important for many individuals, and we’ve seen our fair share of inquiries at The River Source. It’s not uncommon for teens who have been abusing drugs or alcohol to become pregnant, and their parents worry about the fate of the unborn child. Powerful messages from the general public warn expecting mothers of the dangers of just one drink, and for a young teen who may not be taking care of herself or paying attention to a potential pregnancy, this information can have devastating effects.

Consider this example. A campaign launched in Quebec- “One drink can hurt your fetus” – sent women into a panic over the health of their babies. Many had become pregnant unexpectedly and had drunk in the early trimester. The fear of having a child with FAS meant that these women began demanding abortions. The campaign was later dropped, but it’s clear that the idea of “one drink” can have devastating effects for the babies who are perfectly healthy. Furthermore, study after study shows that light to moderate drinking shows no effects on the development of a fetus.

Weighing the Numbers

Women who drink heavily, however, are certainly more at risk for having a baby that is smaller in birth weight and has mental or physical handicaps. How much is considered “heavy” is up for debate. Some experts feel that even one drink puts the baby at risk while others report that up to 45 drinks spanned over a month is moderate. The Harvard Women’s Health Watch advises women to have no more than one drink each day while pregnant, but you’ll find many disagree with this number.

Nevertheless, most women in the U.S. are told by their doctors to abstain from alcohol. Because we just never know exactly what will be the trigger for FAS, it’s best to steer clear from alcohol. That being said, there has never been a reported case of FAS from moderate drinking. Women who have babies with FAS also tend to smoke, use illegal drugs and are undernourished. They are also commonly undereducated, which means they’re not familiar with our current approaches toward prenatal care. Many of these women don’t even seek medical care during their pregnancy.

Reaching Out to the Mothers Who Need It

Perhaps this is what more of the focus should be on. Instead of scaring women out of having an occasional drink during pregnancy, it’s those women who are unknowingly hurting their babies because of lack of prenatal care and education. FAS only occurs among alcoholic mothers, those who drink regularly and have frequent binge sessions. Interestingly, these mothers also tend to have more pregnancies, fewer prenatal visits, more mental health problems and accidents that are related to alcohol or other factors.

Only the family can make the decision as to what is right for a teenage mother, but we at The River Source want our families to be educated on the information surrounding drug and alcohol abuse, even when it comes to sensitive, controversial topics such as drinking during pregnancy. There is no reason to believe that light to moderate drinking will cause FAS. If your teen is struggling with addiction while pregnant, don’t think that you’ve hit a dead end. The team at The River Source can create a safe program that will foster success in every way possible.

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