Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant

Published On: July 19, 2022

There is still much debate as to whether alcohol is safe to drink while an individual is pregnant.

Because of this uncertainty, however, medical professionals still advise that the safest practise while pregnant is not to drink at all.

This can cause issues if the individual who is pregnant has previously been struggling with an alcohol addiction or has developed this addiction as a result of becoming pregnant.

Much of the research on alcohol as a danger during pregnancy is focused on the effects that alcohol may have on the baby itself.

For example, a long-term drinking period while pregnant can result in serious harm to the child inside the mother’s body, but also once it is born.

This includes both physical and mental health effects, as well as risks of the child developing an addiction to alcohol as well in the future (1).

Official advice, such as from the NHS, states that individuals should not drink while they are pregnant or trying to become pregnant due to the effects that this can have on the baby such as those mentioned above (2).

How does drinking alcohol while pregnant affect the baby?

preggo 2

When a pregnant individual consumes alcohol, this enters the bloodstream. This is why the effects of alcohol are generally felt so quickly.

From this, the alcohol will travel through the blood at speed around the body, eventually ending up at the placenta.

This is the organ that develops during pregnancy, allowing the passing of oxygen and other useful nutrients from the mother to the baby, also removing waste products from the baby from its blood as well through the umbilical cord.

Full-grown individuals are able to break down alcohol within the body within a few hours. Although the effects still take hold, it is relatively easy for the body to break down the chemicals and remove them from the body.

With an unborn child, however, this time is far longer. This means that the alcohol stays within the body for a longer period of time, allowing for further risks to occur and increased danger to the baby’s life.

This may be due to the alcohol reaching and staying in the baby’s brain and other organs. Alcohol damage during development can have serious consequences, both within the womb and once the child is born.

How can alcohol affect a baby within the womb?

sono 3

Once alcohol is within the baby’s body, especially during the vital stages of development, it can have long-lasting and severe impacts.

These effects will differ between pregnancies, individuals carrying the child, their history of alcohol usage, and their current alcohol consumption.

These effects can also take a varying amount of time to actually impact the baby’s development and/or later quality of life.

For example, some effects may be evident after a few weeks of alcohol usage, whereas others may take months or even years after the child has been born to come to light.

The most common of these are described in the following paragraphs.

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)

FASDs can take form a range of different effects to the child – both physical and mental. In general, FASDs are a category of effects that alcohol can have on an unborn child and include a multitude of risks and long-term dangers.

The most common FASDs often include issues with the child’s cognitive development at a young age. This can affect their cognitive skills (thinking), as well as communication difficulties, emotional control, and progressing with daily activities.

FASDs occur within the brain, meaning that children whose mothers consumed large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy may also risk increased mental health issues and struggle with factors such as trouble with the law and dropping out of school (3).

Birth defects

Even as far back as the 18th century, medical professionals have linked drinking alcohol during pregnancy to birth defects.

Back then, it included factors such as reduced weight at birth and increased infant mortality, whereas now it includes factors such as Down’s syndrome, spina bifida, and cardiovascular issues (4).

Some of these birth defects are able to be treated almost immediately whereas others are far more long-term and can affect the child for many years, including into adulthood.

By avoiding alcohol during pregnancy, the risk of the infant developing these issues is far lower and they are far more likely to be born healthy, without alcohol-related issues.

Miscarriages and stillbirths

Alcohol use during pregnancy is also associated with a greater risk of miscarriages and stillbirths.

For miscarriages, individuals who drink 5 or fewer drinks per week are 6% more likely to experience a miscarriage with each additional drink per week (5).

This shows that the more individual drinks while pregnant, the more risk they are putting their unborn child and themselves in.

In most cases of research around alcoholism during pregnancy, it is difficult to obtain a sample for specific case studies. However, the link between prenatal alcohol exposure and stillbirths has still been made, with individuals consuming alcohol during pregnancy at a higher risk of stillbirth than those who do not consume alcohol (6).

Premature birth

Individuals who drink alcohol while pregnant are also more likely to experience premature birth.

This is also strongly linked to the prematurely born child developing an addiction to alcohol later in life, especially in males (7).

This shows the longevity of alcohol exposure during development, increasing the risk of alcoholism in individuals whose mothers consumed alcohol during their pregnancy as well as having direct physical health risks to the child while they are still in the womb.

How to tell if someone is struggling with alcoholism while pregnant

woman drinking 1

Often, it may be difficult to detect an addiction to alcohol in a friend or family member, though these are often the first people to tell that something is wrong and that someone they care about may have a problem with drinking while pregnant.

When an individual is addicted to alcohol, especially in the case of pregnant individuals who may be aware of the dangers, they may begin to conceal their behaviour, making it hard to detect.

However, in cases where alcohol addiction is detected, there may be some key signs and symptoms that an individual may exhibit.

The most common of these are outlined below:

  • Making excuses for alcohol not being harmful to the baby
  • Becoming annoyed, agitated, or aggressive when confronted about their alcohol usage
  • Not attending prenatal healthcare appointments e.g., doctors’ appointments
  • Not taking prescribed nutrients
  • Becoming more socially isolated and/or avoiding close friends and family members

Treatment programmes and therapies for pregnant individuals

Individual therapy

As this is a recognised mental health issue, addiction support is available for all individuals, including those who may be pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

For individuals with a shorter history of an alcohol addiction, or for those whose usage may be considered minor, outpatient treatments may be recommended.

These include treatments that an individual can attend while staying at home and are often located within the local area around the individual’s residence.

Common treatments include addiction support networks e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, or the referral to counselling services within the local region.

On the other hand, if the individual has a more severe alcohol addiction or has more severe symptoms, then it may be recommended that they enter an inpatient rehab centre.

This refers to all treatments within a dedicated rehab centre.

Though many of the treatments and/or activities may be similar to those in outpatient care, inpatient care becomes the individual’s everyday life.

Within a centre, the individual takes part in addiction treatment programmes as a part of their everyday routine. This allows for a far more effective and efficient treatment programme, though it is not suitable in every case.

This should be discussed fully before an individual makes the final decision about the future of their rehabilitation journey.

How Rehab 4 Alcoholism can help

Rehab 4 Alcoholism has a long history of helping individuals struggling with alcoholism from all backgrounds.

We understand that addiction is a non-discriminatory disorder and can affect anyone.

That is why we have a team of friendly and professional addiction experts to answer any questions about rehab, alcoholism, during pregnancy, or any further issues relating to anything read in this article or the remainder of our site.

To get in touch with our addiction support team, call 0800 111 4108 to receive free and confidential advice, no matter your situation.

Give Rehab 4 Alcoholism a call today to begin your rehabilitation journey.


[1] Pihl, R.O., Peterson, J. and Finn, P.R., 1990. Inherited predisposition to alcoholism: characteristics of sons of male alcoholics. Journal of Abnormal Psychology99(3), p.291.

[2] NHS: Drinking alcohol while pregnant: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/drinking-alcohol-while-pregnant/

[3] Moore, E.M. and Riley, E.P., 2015. What happens when children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders become adults?. Current developmental disorders reports2(3), pp.219-227.

[4] Warren, K.R. and Bast, R.J., 1988. Alcohol-related birth defects: an update. Public Health Reports103(6), p.638.

[5] Sundermann, A.C., Zhao, S., Young, C.L., Lam, L., Jones, S.H., Velez Edwards, D.R. and Hartmann, K.E., 2019. Alcohol use in pregnancy and miscarriage: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research43(8), pp.1606-1616.

[6] Bailey, B.A. and Sokol, R.J., 2011. Prenatal alcohol exposure and miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery, and sudden infant death syndrome. Alcohol Research & Health34(1), p.86.

[7] Manzardo, A.M., Madarasz, W.V., Penick, E.C., Knop, J., Mortensen, E.L., Sorensen, H.J., Mahnken, J.D., Becker, U., Nickel, E.J. and Gabrielli Jr, W.F., 2011. Effects of premature birth on the risk for alcoholism appear to be greater in males than females. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs72(3), pp.390-398.

Related posts