How safe is it to consume alcohol during pregnancy, if at all? Obstetrician/Gynecologist David Barrere explains the effects of alcohol on a fetus.

Your question
I have never been a big drinker, but like to have wine with dinner sometimes. How much alcohol is it safe to consume during pregnancy? - Mary in Metairie, Louisiana

The expert answers
Alcohol is a fetal teratogen -- a substance that can cause a fetal malformation. A well-documented syndrome, the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), is associated with alcohol use during pregnancy. FAS is characterized by:

  • Growth retardation before and/or after delivery
  • Facial dysmorphisms including an absent philtrum (The vertical groove in the upper lip.), flattened nasal bridge, small nose, thin upper lip, low set ears
  • Central nervous system (CNS) effects -- microcephaly, mental retardation, risk for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

There is a dose-dependent risk of malformation to the fetus, however, the exact threshold is not known. Alcohol use can be associated with malformations and nervous system, defects in the absence of full-blown FAS (the Fetal Alcohol Effect). With such uncertainty regarding the threshold for fetal impact, it is best to avoid all alcohol during pregnancy.

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