The question of whether it's safe for a woman who's expecting to imbibe any amount of alcohol is a long-standing one. It's also a confusing question. Some research says a little is okay, or that it's impossible to conclude what the effects might be. Other studies show there is a detrimental effect. The latest entry into all that research definitely falls into this latter category: A study of 992 women who drank at least once while pregnant did find that alcohol takes a toll -- raising the risk of fetal abnormalities, impaired height and weight, and neurological issues, reported the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, which noted, too, that the sixth to 12th weeks of pregnancy are "also the time when a mother's alcohol consumption poses the greatest risk of doing lifelong physical damage to her baby."
The research appeared in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, and looked at data collected on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) is a broader category encompassing FAS and less severe manifestations. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a person with an FASD might have abnormal facial features (such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip); a small head; short height; low bodyweight; hyperactivity; poor memory; and difficulty concentrating, among other problems.
Haruna Sawada Feldman of the University of California, San Diego, led the research and said the data were collected during the women’s pregnancies (rather than after they had delivered and would have been trying to accurately recall how much alcohol they drank while pregnant), and also that the data were collected by counseling specialists who guaranteed the women’s confidentiality. Sharing such sensitive information does not come easily, of course. The Wall Street Journal notes that the study found that some women who "averaged less than one drink a day still had babies with some FAS characteristics."
It’s worth mentioning that in a press release about Feldman’s study, the university noted that the researchers found that for women who drank more during pregnancy – no matter when it happened during a pregnancy – the drinking was associated with an increased risk of a baby being born underweight and/or at a shorter length. “These findings show that drinking alcohol between week seven and 12 of pregnancy are clearly associated with a risk for FAS facial features, as well as a decrease in birth weight and length,” said Christina Chambers, Ph.D., MPH, professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego and CTIS program director, in the press release. “However, this should not be misinterpreted to mean that drinking during weeks 1 through 7 is safe."
If you have questions about things that might harm a growing fetus, call the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists at 866.626.6847.