If you are pregnant or thinking of starting a family, the question of whether drinking wine is safe can be a difficult one. After all, there is conflicting advice out there and even confusing labels on wine bottles that state things like “suitable for women who are expecting”. So how do you know if it’s ok? We’ve got all of your worries covered in this blog post about whether or not it’s safe to consume wine during pregnancy and offer practical advice on just how much – if any – you should be having. Take away any doubts about enjoying wine during pregnancy and join us as we discuss the real evidence behind this oft-debated topic!
Hi — I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I have discussed with countless women how much they missed wine during pregnancy — so I’m well aware of the desire many people have to continue light drinking during pregnancy. But, I’m excited to review the literature with you and show you what the studies show
Come join me in my tailored-to-you pregnancy series right here:
And of course, this is just a literature review, you should always make your choices in conjunction with your provider during pregnancy.
Can You Drink Wine When You’re Pregnant?
The CDC states that there is no safe amount of alcohol you can have during your pregnancy.
The Surgeon General and the department of health has a warning on alcohol (or where alcohol is served) that pregnant women should not be drinking.
The American College of Obstetricians also backs-up the statement that there is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy.
A lot of people wonder if it is OK to drink alcohol later in pregnancy vs in your first trimester, but there is no differentiation between these governing bodies as to when alcohol use is safe for your unborn baby.
However, we’re going to dive deeper into what the studies show and how you can make the best choice for yourself.
Why can drinking wine during pregnancy be a problem?
Alcohol can cross the placenta, through the umbilical cord and reach your baby, who is much more vulnerable to its damaging effects. Alcohol can damage your baby’s developing brain cells and other organs, leading to lifelong physical, mental and behavioral problems. This is known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). This can also lead to abnormal facial features and more severe cognitive impairments as baby has more exposure to alcohol while in the womb.
What do they studies show about drinking wine when you’re pregnant?
There are numerous studies on alcohol’s effects on your developing baby. I wanted to review a few of them that both talk about light drinking as well as heavy drinking.
Effects of Alcohol on Adverse Fetal Outcomes
This study out of Ethiopia showed that there were poor fetal outcomes especially in relationship to low birth weight or premature birth.
- For Low Birth weight, those who didn’t consume alcohol 10.25% of the babies had it, 15.18% for “non-hazardous” and 25.86% had it with “hazardous” consumption”
- For preterm delivery 5.53% of the babies were born preterm with no consumption, 5.58% for non-hazardous, and 12.93% for hazardous consumption.
Why does low birth weight matter?
You may think that having a smaller baby sounds nice (less to push out) but smaller babies show that they aren’t getting as much nutrients or aren’t using them as effectively in the womb. Meaning the things they are developing may have issues.
Low birth weight is also known as SGA or small for gestational age or IUGR intrauterine growth restriction.
Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Psychological or Behavioral Issues
This study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that even light alcohol use (which in this study was less than 40 drinks during your pregnancy — so less than once a week) showed small but significantly “greater psychological and behavioral problems, including internalizing and externalizing psychopathology, attention deficits, and impulsiveness”
The amount of developmental problems the children had was related to the alcohol dose (or how many drinks the person had) and the timing of the exposure.
However, even light prenatal alcohol consumption may result in changes in neuro development.
But it did also mention that alcohol use during pregnancy often has a co-occurrence (meaning they see these in the same people) of other substance use (recreational drugs), early life stress on the child and not getting quality prenatal care. So it is definitely possible that those things are impacting the child also.
Low Alcohol Consumption and Pregnancy and Childhood Outcomes?
This review of the literature showed that the data is pretty sparse on those drinking less than 32 g/ week in pregnancy. But, because there is some evidence that it can cause low birth weight (often called SGA or small for gestational age) or preterm delivery they recommend against even small mounts of alcohol.
Is Any Amount of Alcohol Safe?
I thought this manuscript discussing some of the difficulties studying this issue was interesting.
- Because we don’t fully understand fetal alcohol syndrome, and what it effects it is difficult to study what causes it.
- They do say that concentrations of alcohol attained after a single drink in pregnant women disrupt the function of the developmentally critical L1 neural cell adhesion molecule (this L1 molecule plays a result in the formation of the nervous system).
- Studies really vary in what they call light-moderate-or mild drinking (no standard between the studies, or in a social setting)
- Genetics may play a role in the FASD — meaning maybe your mom drank during her pregnancy (and her mom, etc) and that could be carried through generations.
- Most studies do show a correlation between the number of days of light-to-moderate drinking during pregnancy and the number of childhood externalizing problems (which is things like physical aggression, verbal bullying, defiance, etc) — so, the more people drank the negative impact on the baby was higher.
- This issue could be enhanced by the paternalism in the OB community, or blaming the patient for something (meaning it’s easy for a male OB to say that you shouldn’t drink during pregnancy, because they have never had to stop drinking for pregnancy and don’t understand how limiting it can feel).
- Also, because they are seeing a very small increase in issues with the lightest drinking, they do have to recommend against drinking during pregnancy (but perhaps it would be better to give the study results and let patient’s decide for themselves).
- Be aware that most women are drinking before they know they’re pregnant, and even with the widespread distribution that there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy approximately 6-10% of women still drink after they know they are pregnant
- The knowledge of the very low risk in just a few drinks should bring some reassurance to women who drink before they know they are pregnant
- They also say that women should be encouraged, not stigmatized as they try to reduce their behaviors that might affect their developing fetus.
The CDC also has some key findings on alcohol in pregnancy.
If you like studies like this (that help you make up your own mind) come join me in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples where we share studies, as well as what to expect when you’re at the hospital to get you prepared for your birth!
Drinking wine during pregnancy faq’s
Is it OK to have a glass of wine during pregnancy?
Many people ask will one drink of wine affect my baby? However, all the governing bodies agree that there is no known safe amount of alcohol. Also, in pregnancy medical professionals always take a risk/benefit analysis and most often decide that the benefits of having wine do not outweigh the risks.
Also, often one glass of wine leads to two or even excessive alcohol consumption for some people. So, that is a consideration as well for baby’s health.
What kind of wine can you drink when you are pregnant?
While some people feel that non-alcoholic wine is fine for pregnant woman, you should be aware that the standards to be “non-alcoholic” are all that strict, meaning there is still some alcohol in that beverage. So, depending on how you view those studies — if you want to cut alcohol out of your life entirely you’d want to not consume any non-alcoholic beverages (meaning things found in the alcohol section labeled as such). These are still considered types of alcoholic drinks but do have less alcohol in them.
What if I drank before I found out I was pregnant?
As I mentioned above, studies show the risk is MUCH higher the more drinks you have. So, early usage of one or two drinks before you knew is likely to not be as problematic as those who drink throughout pregnancy. Also, there is nothing you can do about it now other than allowing baby the most healthy environment as you can now (which means decreasing your stress too).
What drinks should I avoid during pregnancy?
The CDC states that any amount of alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy. This includes drinks like beer, wine, and spirits. Additionally, you should avoid drinks with high levels of caffeine such as energy drinks or coffee. While these beverages are generally considered safe for adults to consume, they can be dangerous for developing babies.
When Can I Resume Drinking Wine?
When can I resume drinking wine? This is an important question to consider before you pick up that bottle of your favorite red or white. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidance on alcohol consumption. According to the CDC, adults should consume no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. It’s also important to keep track of the amount of alcohol consumed to ensure that you’re not overindulging and creating any health risks.
In general, if you follow the guidelines set out by the CDC and practice responsible drinking, then it’s safe to resume drinking wine in moderation. However, if you have any underlying health conditions or take certain medications, it’s best to speak with your doctor about when it would be safe for you to start consuming alcohol again.
However, if you are planning to breastfeed there are considerations about alcohol in breastmilk. My friend Katie has a good post on alcohol and breastfeeding — alcohol does travel into breast milk, so this is an important read.
Also, if you have ANY amount of alcohol make sure that baby is not alseep in your bed, or you fall asleep while nursing. Aka, no co-sleeping at ALL when under the influence of any amount of alcohol.
The Final Word on Wine During Pregnancy
It is a hard choice for healthy pregnant women to make. The studies clearly show that binge drinking during pregnancy or large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can cause issues with the developing fetus. However, the studies are less clear on smaller amounts. But, because of the high-risk nature of growing a human, they believe the safest option is to abstain from alcoholic drinks during pregnancy.
Some women feel that the stress relief they get from a small glass of alcohol will counter-act the possibly implications that much alcohol may have on their baby. That is something you should definitely discuss with your provider. And perhaps consider alternatives that may be safer than an occasional glass of wine at a special occasion.
The reality is that you will have to live with whatever choice you make. I think most people don’t want the “what if” of making the choice to drink alcohol during pregnancy and then having issues with your child, either a small baby, or preterm birth or issues with executive functions or even further issues as they grow-up. This causes most women to plan for complete abstinence of alcohol during their pregnancy as it is a limited time and they can enjoy it later after baby is out of them.
But I am with you that this can be a hard choice. I hope that these studies helped you make up your mind about what you are going to do.
I’d love to help you through ALL of your pregnancy with evidence about things during your pregnancy, labor and birth in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. It’s there to help you quickly get prepared for your upcoming hospital birth.
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing, check out my free prenatal class. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice. She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.
As an evidence-based prenatal educator Hilary has delivered thousands of babies and has educated hundreds of thousands of parents from a diverse patient population to help them have a confident birth.