Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy: What to Believe?

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is a subject that elicits very strong emotion.


I.    Background

II.   Research Findings

III.   Promising Research

IV.   Resources for Pregnancy

I.  Background

Some pregnant women have actually become frantic upon realizing they had eaten salad with wine vinegar dressing. They feared their children would be born suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Servers have told pregnant women ordering wine with dinner in restaurants that they may not have it. Strangers have publicly chastised expectant women for sipping a drink.

In England, physicians have faced damage suits for not advising patients that alcohol could affect the foetus.1 Mothers who drink during pregnancy face increasing legal controls, compulsory treatment and even jail. If their baby shows damage they may also face charges of child abuse.2

In the US, a woman four months pregnant called police after a beating by her husband. Officers found her BAC illegal. So they arrested her and charged her with felony child abuse.3

Conflicting Advice

drinking alcohol during pregnancyWomen who seek guidance from medical experts face confusion. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence issues guidelines in the UK. It said it was safe for expectant mothers to have a small drink every day. But just two weeks later, the U.K. Department of Health changed its advice from having up to two small drinks daily to abstinence.4


With conflicting advice, what’s a woman to do? That’s a very personal decision only she can make. But some things to consider might be this.

    • Those who oppose drinking in general will always insist that there is no safe limit. We never will know what it is. It’s impossible to prove a negative.
    • There is no evidence that moderate drinking during pregnancy has ever caused FAS in a single child. The burden of proof lies on those who contend that such drinking is harmful.
    • Women who choose to drink alcohol moderately during pregnancy can do knowing it is consistent with the medical evidence.
    • Light or moderate drinking during pregnancy might cause some as yet unknown harm to a fetus.
    • Because of that possibility, however remote, the very safest choice would be to abstain.
    • A women who is pregnant or plans to be should discuss the matter with her doctor. This includes the possible heart and stroke risk to herself from abstaining. The doctor will know her health history, medical problems, and other factors. This can help her make an informed decision.

drinking alcohol during pregnancy


II. Research Findings about Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy


Light Drinking During Pregnancy May be Beneficial for Children

Doctors made a large study of three-year-old children. Those born to mothers who were light drinkers during pregnancy had fewer conduct, emotional and peer problems. Those born to abstaining mothers or those who drank heavily while pregnant had more problems.

Effects of Moderate Alcohol Drinking During Pregnancy

Researchers studied drinking during pregnancy.  They found low-to-moderate drinking during pregnancy not linked with increased risk of low birth weight or premature birth.

Abortions and Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy

The Province of Quebec abandoned its use of scare tactics to discourage drinking during pregnancy. Some wome had as little as a single drink before discovering  their pregnancy. But the scare tactics caused them to obtain abortions.


If a pregnant woman has single sip of alcohol it could cause her child to have FAS.


Drinking alcohol during pregnancy has been studied. It has involved hundreds of thousands of women around the world. It has failed to find evidence that light drinking by an expectant woman can cause FAS. The risk of any type from a sip of alcohol is highly remote.

III. Promising Research on Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Vitamins

Pregnant women taking vitamins C and E, folic acid, beta-carotene and flavonoids might protect their fetus against damage. But these findings cannot serve as a basis for action.

Antioxidants May Protect against Birth Defects from Alcohol Abuse

Antioxidants during pregnancy might reduce the risk or even prevent birth defects in babies born to women who abuse alcohol. Animal tests have found this. But this needs confirmation among humans and does not provide a guide to action

IV. Resources

Champion, P. and McCormick. Eating and Drinking in Labour. Boston: Butterworth.

Dolan, S. and Kelly, A. Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby. The Ultimate Pregnancy Guide. NY: HarperOne.

Duigan, J., et al. Clean & Lean Pregnancy Guide. London: Kyle.

Geddes, L. Bumpology: The Myth-busting Pregnancy Book for Curious Parents-to-be. NY: Simon & Schuster.

Glicksman, M. and DiGeronimo, T. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. NY: Alpha.

Ricciotti, H. and Connelly, V. The Pregnancy Cookbook