How Alcohol Affects Pregnancy

Although doctors do not recommend drinking alcohol during pregnancy at all, a certain proportion of women do not follow this advice. According to various estimates, about half of pregnant women consume some amount of alcohol – knowing or not about their pregnancy.

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This question – what to do if a woman drinks without knowing about her pregnancy – worries so many women. As explained at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in the first two weeks after conception (before the delay in menstruation, when a woman does not yet know about pregnancy), alcohol consumption cannot harm a fetus. But it can interfere with its attachment and lead to the interruption of a pregnancy that has just begun, which the woman will never know about.

There are also cases when women do not stop drinking even after finding out they are pregnant. Usually, it happens because they can not get rid of their alcohol addiction and should look for online aa meetings details. Such meetings can help not only stop drinking alcohol during pregnancy but also start living a better life. 

What studies say

How Alcohol Affects Pregnancy
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There is different information on whether pre-pregnancy alcohol consumption affects the risk of early miscarriage. A study in which 18,000 women took part showed that alcohol consumption was not associated with an increased risk of miscarriage in women who had not previously experienced a miscarriage. But another study found an increased risk of miscarriage when the dose was exceeded 2 servings per day. There have also been studies of women undergoing IVF: it was found that the risk of failure is increased by four times when drinking alcohol in the week before the procedure, and three times when drinking in the previous month.

The effect of alcohol on the likelihood of preterm birth was studied. British scientists examined research data on the effects of drinking a small amount of alcohol during pregnancy. The data was published by BMJ in 2017. There was an 8 per cent increase in the risk of having an underweight baby and a 10 per cent increase in the risk of preterm birth with two drinks per week (up to 32 g). There was no delayed impact on the health of the child, but this does not mean that it is completely ruled out. The review authors noted a lack of good research specifically on the topic of drinking a small, occasional amount of alcohol during pregnancy, rather than moderate or excessive consumption.

Another study published in the journal Obstetrics And Gynecology in 2013 found no link between alcohol consumption in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy and low birth weight, preeclampsia, or preterm birth. The study involved 5628 primiparous women in England, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, of whom 19% reported drinking occasionally, 25% drank no more than 7 servings per week, and another 15% more than 7 servings per week.

It is believed that drinking alcohol is especially harmful in the first half of pregnancy, and towards the end of it, especially if childbirth is delayed, it will not harm, and, on the contrary, will be beneficial, will help speed up labour.

However, alcohol “stimulation” of labour has no scientific basis. Conversely, alcohol relaxes the uterus, and in the past, intravenous ethanol has even been used to prevent miscarriage and premature birth. Now other drugs, more effective, are used for this, but there was no risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome in children whose mothers underwent ethanol therapy. Some doctors suggest that drinking a small amount of alcohol will help you relax during “training” contractions – Braxton Hicks contractions, but, of course, no one would undertake to loudly recommend this.

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

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Alcohol easily crosses the placenta, but the fetus cannot metabolize it in the same way as the body of an adult. Therefore, it matters how a woman’s body processes alcohol: how quickly the level of alcohol in the blood rises, what is the level of enzymes that metabolize alcohol, etc.

Alcohol-induced disorders are most often associated not with mild or even moderate alcohol consumption, but with excess consumption throughout pregnancy. In addition, alcohol abuse is often accompanied by smoking (and possibly drug use), the worst level of medical care, chronic diseases, poor nutrition, low income, domestic violence, stress, and it is difficult to determine what exactly caused the child’s problems.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a combination of physical and mental birth defects that are caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Among the specific external signs immediately noticeable in a child are a smoothed nasolabial groove, a thin upper lip and short eye slits, etc. There is also a deficit in height and weight. In addition to the fetal alcohol syndrome itself, the concept of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders – less pronounced cognitive and behavioural problems – stands out.

Fetal alcohol syndrome develops in 1–2 children out of 1000. About 10 out of 1000 children have fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Unfortunately, the damage done to the child’s brain by alcohol cannot be eliminated. Although many deviations can be corrected by education and psychotherapy, not everyone is lucky. In the long term, these deviations can lead to poor performance, alcohol and drug use, mental illness, conflicts with the law, problems with work and money. A predisposition to problematic alcohol use can ultimately lead their own children to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome.

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