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Alcohol and pregnancy

The impact of alcohol on the pregnancy

Using alcohol during your pregnancy may be harmful for the unborn child. Even small amounts can be harmful. The risk and the severity of the effects increase when the average alcohol consumption and the number of glasses per occasion increase. If you drink alcohol, your baby is drinking too. After drinking alcohol, the alcohol distributes into your body fluid. The concentration of alcohol in your baby’s blood will become as high as your own, but it is processed slower and therefore the baby is exposed to the alcohol for longer. Alcohol can reach your unborn child throughout the whole pregnancy, even when the placenta hasn’t developed completely or while you are not aware of your pregnancy yet.

If you drink a non-alcoholic beverage make sure to check it is definitely without alcohol. There is a difference between non-alcoholic drinks (0.5% alcohol) and completely alcohol-free drinks (0.0% alcohol). Only consume drinks containing 0.0% alcohol during your pregnancy.

Alcohol if you wish to conceive

There is evidence that the use of a single glass of alcohol per day can already affect the fertility of both men and women. Moreover, the risk of miscarriages seems to increase in case of regular alcohol consumption by man or woman. Because it is impossible to determine a clear lower limit for what is safe to consume, the recommendation is for neither of you to drink during the period you are trying to conceive.

In the first 4 weeks of your pregnancy (from the first day of your last period) you are usually not aware that you are pregnant. Straight after your period a new egg will start to mature. The conception takes place approximately 14 days before your period is supposed to start. In the first weeks of the pregnancy all the important organs are formed. So this is a crucial period during which circumstances should be optimised. Alcohol can negatively influence the development of all those organs.

Consequences of alcohol consumption

Alcohol affects the developments of cells. During the pregnancy the organs of you baby develop. Alcohol has a negative impact on this process. The brain also undergoes important development during the pregnancy. Alcohol may lead to brain damage.

What damage occurs, depends on the period of the pregnancy during which you drink alcohol. Alcohol consumption could result in the child suffering brain damage throughout the pregnancy. Excessive alcohol consumption in the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy may lead to defects in organs like the hearth, the arms, and the eyes. In week 13 to 42 of the pregnancy alcohol consumption could result in developmental deficits.

There is evidence that consuming less than one glass of alcohol a day may already negatively influence the pregnancy resulting in miscarriage, foetal mortality, and premature birth. In addition, there is evidence that it could have a negative impact on the psychomotor development of the baby.

Among women who drink one to two glasses of alcohol per day on average, a negative effect in the psychomotor development of the baby is likely and the chances of miscarriage, foetal mortality, premature birth, and developmental deficits may increase. Research shows that the baby stops making breathing movements during longer periods of time when the mother consumes one to two glasses of alcohol per day. These movements are important for the development of the lungs.

In addition to the effects mentioned before, there is an increased risk of birth defects in babies and the chance of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) increases when consuming six or more glasses of alcohol a day.

Whether or not alcohol consumption has damaged your baby cannot be determined until after the birth. If you are very worried because you drank alcohol before you were aware of your pregnancy, please remember that your baby is most likely to come into this world healthy. This chance increases if you do not drink any more alcohol during the rest of the pregnancy.

Consequences of alcohol for the baby may be:

  • A lot of crying
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Being easily over-stimulated
  • Calming down slower
  • Developmental deficits in length and weight (the child will not make up for deficits due to alcohol consumption during the rest of his life)
  • Facial abnormalities
  • Brain damage, which may result in malfunctioning, hyperactivity, mental disability, learning disorders, bad memory, autistic behaviour, lower IQ, social problems
  • At a later age: increased risk of alcoholism and mental issues

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

If a child suffers damage because the mother consumed alcohol, it may be diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. This disorder may vary from a mild form, where the child is easily over-stimulated, has a bad memory, and shows social issues to a severe form. The most serious damage is visible when a child has a developmental deficits and facial abnormalities and neurological damage. This is referred to as the Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). More information is available on www.fasstichting.nl.

Sources: www.alcoholenzwangerschap.nl and www.medicinfo.nl