Alcohol consumption among women of childbearing age in the United States is a public health issue. When a woman drinks during her pregnancy she increases the risk of harming her unborn baby as well as her own body.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, any amount of drinking is considered at-risk alcohol use during pregnancy. In consensus with this recommendation, the U.S. Surgeon General advises that pregnant women should not drink any alcohol while they are pregnant 1. Excessive alcohol consumption is a risk factor for miscarriage due to damage to the developing cells of the baby.
Aside from miscarriage risk, drinking during pregnancy is associated with negative health outcomes for the mother, that include both maternal psychosocial risks as well as physical risks of potential harms for both mother and developing fetus 1,2.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which, depending on the infection, may harm the pregnancy.
- Injuries, such as falls, which may lead to miscarriage.
- Cancer of the breast, liver, mouth, and esophagus.
- Conflicts with a spouse or partner.
- Work disability.
- Sexual assault.
- Child neglect or abuse.
- Domestic violence.
- Driving under the influence.
- Trading sex for drugs.
For women who want to get pregnant, alcohol abuse can also harm fertility. If you or a loved one is currently pregnant or hoping to get pregnant and is abusing alcohol, it is important to talk to your doctor immediately. Your doctor can help you take the steps to reduce the possibility that your child is further exposed to alcohol in utero.
Effects of Alcohol on a Developing Fetus
Alcohol crosses the placenta and results in the fetus receiving nearly equal the concentration of alcohol as the mother 12. In addition, fetal metabolism of alcohol occurs more slowly than it does in an adult—the result being that fetal blood alcohol levels (BAC) can become more elevated than their mother’s BAC, and persist in that manner for a longer period of time 13.
Excess alcohol consumption can abruptly result in miscarriage. For many, however, the risks don’t end there. A developing baby, carried to term after in utero exposure to alcohol, is subject to a number of negative effects described below.