Skip to main content

How alcohol can harm an unborn baby

Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy increase the risk that their child will be born with life-altering birth defects.

In the United States, thousands of babies are born each year with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), according to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS). These disorders develop when pregnant women drink alcohol.

According to the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and NOFAS, the effects of FASD may include:

  • Growth deficits.
  • Abnormal facial characteristics.
  • Developmental, behavioral and intellectual problems.

People with FASD may have trouble with learning, memory, hyperactivity, attention span, vision and hearing. Alcohol use during pregnancy is the leading known cause of developmental disability and birth defects in the United States.

Drinking for two

When a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol enters her bloodstream and is passed on to the baby through the placenta. Not every woman who drinks during pregnancy will have a baby with FASD. However, there is no known safe amount of alcohol a woman can drink during pregnancy and no safe time during pregnancy to drink.

Always avoidable

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are 100% preventable. Women who don't drink alcohol during pregnancy run no risk of delivering a child with FASD. Women who are drinking during pregnancy can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by quitting drinking right away.

Women who are considering becoming pregnant should avoid alcohol as well. Drinking during the early weeks of pregnancy, before a woman knows she is pregnant, can cause disability and birth defects too.

reviewed 8/27/2019

Related stories