Pregnancy concerns: Is an occasional glass of wine safe?

I have been told that having a couple of glasses of wine a week is perfectly safe while I am pregnant. Is occasional alcohol use dangerous to my baby-to-be?


Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

The problem with recommending any safe level of alcohol intake during pregnancy is that the safe levels of episodic drinking have not been clearly defined. This is why we say to abstain from alcohol completely during pregnancy. As health care providers we simply cannot recommend any safe level.

We once said that an occasional glass of wine was fine during pregnancy, but since that time we have identified fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effect, which is characterized by prenatal and postnatal growth deficiency, mental retardation, behavioral disturbances and an atypical facial appearance. Congenital heart defects and brain anomalies are common and other major congenital anomalies, such as spina bifida, limb defects and genitourinary defects are seen but less commonly. This syndrome occurs in 30 to 40 percent of women who are frank alcoholics, but, as little as three ounces of absolute alcohol per day during pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol syndrome consequences.

Lesser amounts of alcohol may be associated with a variety of less severe manifestations in children called fetal alcohol effects. Minor anomalies, moderate growth deficiency, mild mental deficits, and subtle behavioral abnormalities are seen more frequently among children of women who averaged more than two to four alcoholic drinks daily during pregnancy.

One study reported that 30 percent of offspring exposed to 14 ounces of absolute alcohol or greater around the time of conception or 3.5 ounces or greater during pregnancy had impaired neurological functions.

With research showing this potential for fetal damage and long-term consequences, it seems prudent to avoid alcohol while pregnant.

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