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