It’s hard to believe the holiday season is upon us. We’re decorating, baking cookies, going to holiday parties, shopping in a frenzy for that perfect gift, gathering with family. Maybe squeezing in that “girls night out” where everyone has promised to not exchange gifts, but to just celebrate the season with friendship, great food and drinks. This can be the most wonderful time of the year. But when pregnant or trying to get pregnant, it can be challenging to face the decision about whether to celebrate the season with or without alcohol.
Drinking and pregnancy
Why is this decision so important?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, and the American Academy of Pediatricians, “there is no safe amount of alcohol, no safe type of alcohol and no safe time to drink when a woman is pregnant.” And yet, in 2016, the CDC estimated that 3.3 million women in the United States were at risk for having an alcohol-exposed pregnancy.
When a woman drinks so does the developing baby, who lacks the ability to process or metabolize alcohol through their liver or other organs. The baby has the same blood alcohol concentration as the mother. It makes no difference if the alcoholic drink consumed is a beer, glass of wine or a distilled spirit or liquor such as vodka.
Know the risks
Evidence-based research has found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity or sudden infant death syndrome. In addition, more than 40 years of published research has shown alcohol to be a neurotoxin in utero. This means that alcohol is a toxic substance to the developing baby just like carbon monoxide and lead.
Alcohol can cause the death of developing brain cells, even during the early stages of pregnancy. Most babies negatively affected by alcohol exposure have no apparent physical birth defects. But they can have lifelong behavioral and learning problems that often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as autism or attention deficit disorder instead of one of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Current studies estimate that 1 in 20 school-age children may have FASDs.
Going alcohol free
How do you navigate and embrace an alcohol-free holiday season? Not that we condone stretching the truth, but if you have just found out you are pregnant and aren’t telling anyone yet, you can always pass on alcohol by saying you are the designated driver, that you are taking a medication that can’t be combined with alcohol or that your stomach just isn’t up for it.
Any time in pregnancy, you can always order mocktails, nonalcoholic beverages or sparkling water with fresh fruit. They can be very festive and help you get your jingle on during this holiday season and throughout your pregnancy.
FASDs are 100 percent preventable. So, if you are pregnant or plan on getting pregnant, please refrain from any alcohol use to ensure the healthiest environment for your baby to grow and develop.
The NC Fetal Alcohol Prevention Program (FASDinNC) strives to prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies by providing training, education and resources to women of childbearing age and the professionals that serve them. This effort includes dispelling any myths surrounding the safety of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, even light drinking.
Amy Hendricks is the program coordinator for the NC Fetal Alcohol Prevention Program (FASDinNC) at Mission Fullerton Genetics Center.