Pregnancy is an exciting time full of hope, joy, expectation, and a little anxiety. You want to make the right choices for you and your baby, but there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and it can be difficult to find definitive answers to your questions.
One of the most commonly asked questions by pregnant women is, “Can pregnant women drink beer?” Well into the 1970s, it was generally believed that drinking alcohol during pregnancy posed no risk to the fetus or the mother, and drinking while expecting was commonplace. But in 1977, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism cited a number of recent studies on fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and published the first government health advisory on pregnancy and alcohol.
When you drink while you’re pregnant, the alcohol in your blood moves through your baby’s blood through the umbilical cord. Heavy drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects, miscarriage, and stillbirth, and it can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which is an irreversible condition that affects a baby in a number of ways, including:
Children born with FAS may have delayed language skills, and they often have lifelong learning disabilities and problems with memory and attention. They may be hyperactive, and they’re likely to have poor coordination and have trouble relating to other kids, making the school years very difficult on many levels.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Centers for Disease Control, and many other trusted organizations stress that since no amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy, pregnant women should completely abstain from drinking during their pregnancy.
But Harvard Medical School recently cited several studies finding that minimal alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy may be okay. A study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that a little alcohol in early pregnancy doesn’t seem to increase the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, or FAS. Similarly, a 2012 study found that low alcohol consumption during pregnancy didn’t affect the executive functioning of 5-year-olds.
Harvard points out that while total abstinence is still the best way to help ensure a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby, the recommendation to completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy is a “little extreme,” and low alcohol consumption—which means no more than one drink per day—is likely a safe amount for pregnant women.
But before you crack open that beer, be sure to talk to your doctor. How alcohol affects your pregnancy may be different from how it affects someone else’s, and it’s important to take into consideration a variety of factors, including your age, general health, and risk for certain complications. If your doctor gives you the all-clear, you can enjoy an occasional cold one.