10 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Pregnancy can be a wonderful time of life when a woman is well-focused on her own health to support the health of her developing baby. She may become more conscious of what they are putting into their bodies and how it may affect their unborn child.

In such a crucial time where every little thing matters, a mother-to-be addicted to alcohol may have many questions in her mind. Is alcohol going to affect her baby? Is help available for alcoholism during pregnancy, and is it truly safe? What are the consequences if she does not stop drinking?

Simply put, alcohol and pregnancy are negatively associated with severe outcomes for both the mother and the baby. However, remember that help is available for all pregnant women struggling with alcohol abuse. An increasing number of rehabilitation programs have started incorporating programmes and services catering to the needs of pregnant women for a safer pregnancy and a sober life in the long run.

Family members and friends are usually the first to recognise a potential drinking problem in a pregnant loved one. It is common for many women to feel helpless or ashamed about their drinking habits during pregnancy. Some of them may even attempt to conceal this habit and show resistance to asking for help. Sometimes, loved ones can start an alcohol intervention with a counsellor’s help. During this intervention, these pregnant females, along with their loved ones, are provided with a judgment-free platform to discuss the use of alcohol and pregnancy, talk about how their drinking patterns might affect their unborn baby and emphasise seeking help. If the afflicted woman decides to seek help, treatment options can also be discussed as a part of this intervention.

However, for an intervention to occur, it is essential to catch the critical warning signs of dangerous drinking behaviours during pregnancy. Some of these common signs include:

  • Avoiding prenatal care by missing appointments and refusing to take prenatal supplements
  • Distancing from loved ones and living in isolation
  • Forgetting daily tasks and responsibilities at home or work
  • Rationalising how alcohol, particularly in small amounts, will not affect pregnancy
  • Acting aggressively, lashing out, and adopting reckless behaviours

In many hospitals and maternity clinics, prenatal doctor appointments commonly involve substance abuse screenings. The medical staff screens every woman for any warning signs of alcohol use, including dilated pupils, the scent of alcohol in her breath or skin, and jitteriness. A referral is immediately arranged if there is a suspicion of alcohol abuse.

Can you drink in pregnancy?” is a common query asked by many women who are currently pregnant or planning to conceive soon. The simple answer to this question is no because of the potential risks alcohol carries for the unborn baby. How alcohol affects a child cannot be precisely predicted, as it varies by case. However, most of these health risks include long-term and short-term complications. Some of these complications are quickly caught in newborns, while others may take years to manifest.

Mentioned below are some potential consequences of drinking alcoholic beverages such as wine during pregnancy:

Miscarriage or Stillbirth

Alcohol consumption is one of the most common factors triggering miscarriages and stillbirths during pregnancy. A miscarriage refers to the death of the fetus before the completion of the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. If the baby dies after the first 20 weeks, the phenomenon is called a stillbirth.

Both stillbirth and miscarriage can trigger a substantial amount of pain for a mother with months of suffering. To prevent the likelihood of these complications, abstaining from alcohol and receiving prenatal care during the entire course of pregnancy are suggested.

Premature Birth

The use of alcohol in pregnancy dramatically increases the chances of premature birth. Premature birth is defined as the birth of a baby before the mother crosses 37 weeks of pregnancy. Not only are premature births associated with a high risk of severe health issues, but they can be potentially fatal. Even if a premature baby survives with intense care, it may develop developmental delays later in life. Many times, a child who has been born prematurely require extra medical care during the initial few years of life to expand the chances of living a healthy life ahead.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can put the unborn baby at risk of developing behavioural and physical problems. These conditions, collectively known as FASDs, are often incurable and can exert lifelong effects on the baby. Some common issues that a baby with FASDs may face include cognitive impairment, trouble communicating, inability to regulate emotions, and poor concentration. FASDs can sometimes affect the brain to the extent that mental health disorders may arise. Such children are more likely to repeat mistakes and often fall victim to poor choices.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) refers to the inexplicable death of a healthy baby, most likely before their first birthday. The infant generally passes quietly in their sleep without any apparent issue or struggle. While the cause of SIDs is unknown, researchers associate it with developmental problems in the hindbrain during pregnancy. The maternal use of alcohol during pregnancy is speculated as a potential trigger for this fatal condition.

Birth Defects

Drinking during pregnancy is one of the main factors leading to congenital disabilities. These congenital disabilities often form within the first trimester of pregnancy and significantly impact how the child’s body functions or looks. Some common birth defects include cleft lip, down syndrome, clubfoot, spina bifida, and heart problems.

While surgical correction and medicine can treat some birth defects, others are more challenging to manage and may affect the child’s health throughout adulthood. Therefore, the best course of action is to adopt an alcohol-free lifestyle during pregnancy to minimise the prevalence of congenital disabilities.

Children born to women with alcohol addiction are often advised to bring them in for regular pediatric visits. These visits keep track of their health and ensure that their motor skills and development are right for their age group.

It is genuinely possible to seek help for alcohol abuse during pregnancy. In this context, the right platform to seek help is an exclusive women’s rehab that offers all resources and tools necessary to cater to pregnancy needs and addiction management. These rehabs allow pregnant women to receive one-on-one therapy to manage their underlying issues and ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

A comprehensive programme offered to pregnant alcoholic females typically includes:

  • Mental health disorder support
  • Nutritional support
  • Support for safely breaking alcohol dependence
  • Assistance for building life skills for herself and the child
  • Trauma-focused therapy, where needed
  • Resources to help with planning for long-term needs

A women’s rehab can help pregnant females openly discuss their situation and ask for help with specific needs. These include controlling negative thought patterns and improving decision-making skills to combat alcoholism. Many women battling alcohol abuse are offered group therapies as a supportive structure for encouragement and motivation. Individual counselling is also included in most treatment plans that allow them to develop strategies to fight relapses, create plans to combat negative behaviours, and learn decision-making skills for their baby.

Heavy use of alcohol by a mother can affect the baby not only in the womb but even after birth. For example, drinking during breastfeeding can be hazardous with irreversible consequences for the newborn. Similar to how alcohol moves from a mother’s bloodstream into the placenta, it can also enter the breast milk and reach the baby’s body.

The amount of time it takes for alcohol to leave the breast milk varies, depending on how much alcohol was consumed and the maternal body weight. A common misconception among many mothers is that pumping and dumping breast milk helps clear alcohol from the bloodstream faster. However, the process does not seem to help with alcohol removal in any way, and despite trying it, it may take several hours for one drink to be entirely removed from the body.

Practising abstinence from alcohol after birth is equally crucial as during pregnancy. A baby exposed to alcohol residues through breast milk is at a high risk of delayed motor skill development and other health issues. It is essential to keep in touch with a healthcare professional to avoid these complications to discuss how to care for a newborn.



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