While any amount of alcohol can cause damage to the fetus, there are two situations that are particularly dangerous – women who binge drink periodically and women who drink continuously throughout pregnancy (for example, one drink every day or several during a week).
During pregnancy, binge drinking, defined as having four or more drinks on one occasion (for women), can produce a variety of effects on the fetus. The peak blood alcohol levels reached by the mother during a single binge may be more important than the total amount of alcohol consumed.
Binge drinking during the first trimester (at a time when many women do not know they are pregnant and when the fetal brain is beginning to develop) can have a dramatic impact on fetal development. For example, mothers who drink more than 5 drinks in a single day before finding out they are pregnant have an increased risk that their child will be 1-3 months behind their peers in reading and math at the end of 1st grade. However, binge drinking during the brain growth spurt (during the second and third trimester) can still have a drastic impact on the developing fetus.
Figure 5.12 A binge drink for women is defined as 4 drinks of alcohol (a glass of wine, a beer, or a shot of liquor) in a two hour period.
Many people think that binge drinking during pregnancy is the only cause of FASD and therefore it is OK to have one or two drinks every once in a while, or even one drink a day! Studies have shown that drinking one drink/day can lead to reduced IQ scores of as many as 7 points or problems in academic achievement (reading, spelling, and arithmetic). Some doctors may tell a woman that drinking once in a while is OK. Unfortunately, most people (and doctors too!) don’t realize that drinking one or two drinks can interfere with fetal development. One research study has shown that after 1-2 glasses of wine, fetal breathing is almost completely suppressed, which can be a sign of fetal distress.
Figure 5.13 Even 1 or 2 drinks of alcohol can cause damage to the fetal brain.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are completely preventable! To prevent these birth defects, the answer is simple: a woman should not drink alcohol while she is pregnant or even if she might become pregnant because
- There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe during pregnancy.
- There is no known time during pregnancy that is safe to drink.
- And there is no drink that contains alcohol that is safe during pregnancy.