When you're pregnant, what you put into your own body, you put into your baby's body too. Although researchers aren't sure just how much alcohol a woman can drink safely during pregnancy, they do know that alcohol can cause physical and mental birth defects. Drinking alcohol can also lead to miscarriage and stillbirth. Knowing more about how drinking alcohol during pregnancy may affect your baby can help you weigh the risks in deciding whether or not to drink.
Alcohol In Your Baby's Blood
While fetal alcohol spectrum disorder generally is associated with women who drink heavily when they are pregnant, drinking even small amounts of alcohol may have serious health effects on the baby growing inside you. Before you take a drink, keep in mind that the alcohol you absorb into your blood is also absorbed into your baby's blood.
Alcohol passes through the placenta and then on to your baby through the umbilical cord. Even if you can handle the amount of alcohol in your system, your unborn baby can't.
Why It Becomes Harmful
Since a fetus can't eliminate alcohol quickly, it remains in your baby's system longer. As a result, your unborn baby can develop a higher concentration of alcohol in the blood, which can damage his or her brain and nervous system, both of which are still developing. Alcohol can also potentially damage your baby's heart, kidneys, brain, or other internal organs, affecting their development or function. Problems can be mild or severe, sometimes lasting throughout your child's lifetime.
Your liver breaks down the alcohol in your blood, but your baby's liver can't do the same because it's too small. Also, every woman's body is different, so if you have low levels of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol, alcohol can remain in your body longer, increasing the risks to your unborn child.
How Alcohol Can Affect Your Baby
Besides birth defects, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause your baby additional problems in infancy and later in childhood. Alcohol can cause:
- Preterm birth
- Low birth weight
- Delayed growth
- Vision and hearing problems
- Speech and language delays
- Learning and behavioral problems
Alcohol and You
When it comes to your own health, which in turn can affect the health of your unborn baby, you should avoid drinking alcohol during and after pregnancy if you have liver disease or a previous history of addiction problems. Don't drink alcohol if you take medications such as antidepressants, anticoagulants, antibiotics, or pain relievers that can interact with alcohol or intensify its effects. Some medications you need to stay healthy may become less effective when you drink alcohol.