Drinking alcohol while pregnant can have harmful effects on a baby’s development, the mother, and the pregnancy itself.

Many people don’t discover that they are pregnant until 4 to 6 weeks after conception, and as many as half of pregnancies are unplanned. The most effective way to avoid the harmful effects of alcohol during pregnancy is to stop drinking as soon as you begin trying to become pregnant.

In cases where a pregnancy is unplanned, however, or the mother is struggling with addiction, quitting alcohol isn’t so straightforward. Pregnancy is not always a choice, and may often occur by accident or through assault. People with alcohol abuse and addiction are at increased risk of sexual violence, as well as unsafe sex, and this can lead to an unplanned pregnancy.

Addiction to alcohol is complex and not a struggle most people can or should try to overcome alone. If you are pregnant and struggling with alcohol abuse, treatment is available to help you overcome your addiction. At Vertava Health, we offer respectful and specialized rehab programs for pregnant patients that provide comprehensive medical and behavioral treatment.

Learn more about the effects and dangers of alcohol abuse during pregnancy, and treatment options by continuing to read below.

How Can Alcohol Harm A Baby During Pregnancy?

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can have harmful effects on a baby’s development in the womb. Alcohol consumption can also affect newborns following birth and into their childhood. These prenatal and postnatal issues are referred to more broadly as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders refer to a number of developmental and physical consequences that can occur when a fetus is exposed to alcohol through the mother during pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association, an estimated 40,000 babies per year in the United States are affected by FAS or FASD.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can also increase the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. When a mother drinks, the alcohol content in the blood transfers to a baby through the umbilical cord. This can be dangerous.

The development of a fetus in the womb refers not only to its growth, but also the formation of vital organs such as the liver. During these stages of development, the underdeveloped liver is unable to process substances like alcohol in the baby’s system. This causes the developing baby to absorb the same alcohol content as the mother, with a decreased ability to properly process it.

The complications of FASD for each baby can vary in severity, depending on what stage(s) in the pregnancy the mother drinks, how often, and in what amount.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) symptoms can include:

  • low birth weight
  • underdeveloped heart or kidneys
  • deformed body parts
  • droopy or wide-set eyes
  • abnormal facial features (e.g. smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip)
  • vision problems

Effects On A Baby After Birth

In addition to developmental problems within the womb, there are several signs of FASD that can become apparent weeks or months after a baby is born. The complications of FASD can be extensive and follow babies into early childhood.

Later signs or symptoms of FASD may include:

  • slow growth rate
  • difficulty sleeping through the night
  • excessive fussiness
  • difficulty learning how to speak or understand language
  • small head
  • abnormal facial features
  • vision and hearing problems
  • hyperactive behavior

The underdevelopment of vital organs and other mental, physical, and behavioral disabilities may continue into the baby’s teenage years and adulthood. The severity of these issues can vary and may be improved or mitigated through treatment recommended by a doctor.

There is no known cure for fetal alcohol syndrome, but there are ways to lessen the impact its complications can have on the baby’s quality of life. The most effective way to determine the appropriate treatment for a baby with FAS is to talk to a doctor or specialist.

When Does It Become Unsafe To Drink During Pregnancy?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is never a safe time to drink during pregnancy.

Drinking alcohol within the first trimester of pregnancy can still cause several effects, including:

  • low birth weight
  • abnormal facial features
  • behavioral problems
  • impact on brain development

Babies are developing through every stage of pregnancy and are vulnerable to the toxic effects alcohol can have on their bodies. The most effective way to prevent fetal or maternal damage during pregnancy is to seek help for alcohol abuse as soon as possible.

Dangers Of Abusing Alcohol While Pregnant

Alcohol abuse is a serious and complex problem that can have debilitating effects on a person’s health and quality of life. In addition to the effects on a developing baby, heavy drinking can make weathering the challenges of pregnancy even more difficult.

Alcohol abuse commonly causes dehydration and malnutrition, resulting in lower levels of essential vitamins and nutrients people need to feel well physically and mentally. People who are pregnant require even more nutrition, and can experience worsened symptoms of malnutrition as a result of heavy drinking and poor diet.

Continuing to drink after a baby is born can also pose consequences to maternal health and that of the baby. Through study, experts have found that alcohol can transfer into breast milk, further exposing a newborn to dangerous levels of alcohol.

Treatment For Alcohol Abuse During Pregnancy: How To Get Help

If you are pregnant and struggling with alcohol dependency, you are not alone. While the most effective course of action is to talk to your doctor about your drinking, many people can feel guilty or ashamed about admitting they have a problem.

At Vertava Health, our treatment specialists understand that this is a delicate issue. Our programs empower patients to recognize the strength in seeking help, and provide a welcoming setting that prioritizes their respect and dignity.

Vertava Health offers several treatment programs for alcohol abuse and addiction across the United States that are specialized to meet the unique needs of pregnant patients. Within these programs, we offer comprehensive medical and behavioral care as part of our holistic approach to mind and body wellness.

Treatment services offered within our alcohol rehab programs for pregnant patients may include:

  • individual counseling
  • trauma counseling
  • group therapy
  • prenatal care
  • medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • parenting classes
  • customized recovery plans
  • yoga and meditation

If you or someone you know is abusing alcohol while pregnant, know that there is help available.

Call Vertava Health today to find treatment services for yourself or a pregnant loved one struggling with alcohol addiction.