Alcohol during pregnancy: How alcohol can harm your baby

It is common for women to report that alcohol has been consumed in the very early days of pregnancy before the woman even realises she is pregnant. This can cause worry and concern, but rest assured, once pregnancy is confirmed and you stop drinking alcohol straight away, your baby will continue to develop healthily. In the very early days, while the developing pregnancy is still at a cellular level, the transfer of substance to the baby would be absolutely tiny.

We know it can be hard to stop drinking. Alcohol is an addictive substance. If you’re struggling, your GP, midwife, or a local substance misuse service can help you.

How alcohol can harm your baby

Alcohol passes from the mother’s blood into the baby’s through the placenta and can damage their developing brain and body.

The extent of the damage depends on:

  • The quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption
  • How your body absorbs and breaks down alcohol (the slower the rate, the worse for your baby).
  • The stage of pregnancy – drinking is particularly harmful during the first 3 months.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)

FASD impairs the baby’s body, brain, and development and can create problems for them later in life.

Problems arising from FASD include:

  • hyperactivity and attention deficit
  • cognitive difficulties
  • poor interpersonal skills
  • below average physical size
  • problems with eating and sleeping
  • emotional and mental health problems

Because of these effects, people with FASD can find it harder to live healthy, fulfilling lives. Indeed, many experience difficulty:

  • completing education
  • managing their finances
  • holding down a job
  • finding and keeping a permanent home
  • with addiction and substance abuse
  • staying out of legal trouble

The most grave FASD is Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is caused by drinking heavily during pregnancy.

As well as all the signs of FASD, your baby may be smaller than normal or underweight and have:

  • damage to their brain and spinal cord
  • an unusually small head or eyes
  • abnormally-shaped facial features or ears
  • problems with their heart and other body organs
  • The one piece of good news is that FASD is more common than FAS- by a factor of 10.

That said, the afflictions of both FASD and FAS are permanent and irreversible. This is a case where Benjamin Franklin’s old maxim- ” An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”– really applies. There is no cure for these maladies, so it’s best to prevent them entirely by abstaining from booze while pregnant.