Effects of Alcohol On Unborn Babies - Rehab Guide
effects of alcohol on unborn babies

Effects of Alcohol On Unborn Babies

Fetal Alcohol Exposure

In the UK, over 41% of pregnant women drink during their pregnancies. But just because a large number of women do this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe for your unborn baby.

A large majority of women go off the taste of alcohol during pregnancy, but for some women, they may have an addiction that’s incredibly hard to kick, even when they’re pregnant. But we must all understand the effects of alcohol on unborn babies and take the steps necessary to become sober. That way, not only will the mother be healthy but also the child.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about what can happen with drinking alcohol while pregnant.

The Effects of Alcohol on Unborn Babies

The effects of alcohol on unborn babies aren’t 100% understood just yet, although there is a strong correlation between drinking and developmental issues with fetuses. This is why it’s highly recommended that you completely abstain from drinking alcohol while pregnant, as this will eliminate the risk of issues stemming from alcohol completely.

When a mother takes in anything (whether it’s by eating, drinking, or even smoking), these things are passed on to the baby through the umbilical cord. Even alcohol will pass through the umbilical cord and placenta, which means it can reach the fetus’s brain.

The placenta is the sole source of nourishment for fetuses. But this means toxins can pass through in addition to the vitamins and minerals the mother ingests.

Surprisingly, men who drink can affect their unborn children with their alcohol abuse too. With regular drinking, a man’s semen volume can decrease and their sperm can decrease in quality too. If he’s been heavily drinking alcohol at the time of conception, then the fertilised egg may go through the negative consequences of being exposed to alcohol.

What Can Happen With Drinking While Pregnant

Depending on how much the mother (and father) drink, and how frequently they do so, there may be several effects of alcohol on unborn babies. They include:

  • Miscarriage before the 20th week of pregnancy
  • Premature birth
  • Lower than normal birth weight
  • Birth defects in the heart or ears (hearing issues)

In very serious cases, it’s possible for alcohol abuse to result in a stillbirth. This is when a woman gives birth to an unviable baby after 20 weeks of being pregnant.

After birth, the child may suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). We’ll discuss these more in detail below.

Keep in mind that it’s possible for any of the above to happen even with just 1 drink of alcohol during your pregnancy. So the optimal thing would be to abstain completely for the entire time you’re pregnant.

Why Do These Effects Happen?

As we’ve mentioned above, the fetus gets all its nourishment from the placenta. Alcohol is able to cross the placenta, which means the unborn baby absorbs it.

However, because they don’t have a fully-developed liver yet, they can’t properly filter out the toxins from alcohol as an adult does. This means the toxins stay in their body for longer, which can harm not only the brain but other development processes.

What Is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are neurodevelopmental disorders that can happen to a baby if their mother drank alcohol during her pregnancy.

Just like with autism, there is a spectrum. Not every child with an FASD will present in the same way. In addition, a woman who binge drank during her pregnancy may not give birth to a baby with FASD while a woman who drank 1 glass of wine in her whole pregnancy might have a child with FASD.

The types of disorders that fall under FASDs include:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS)
  • Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD)
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND)
  • Fetal alcohol effects (FAE)

As you can see, there are many branches of FASDs. Again, not every single woman who drinks will give birth to a baby with FASDs. And if they do, the severity of FASD symptoms will vary from child to child.

What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most extreme end of FASD. They’ll have very noticeable physical and developmental issues. For example, they’ll display prominent facial features typical of FASD and will be much shorter in stature.

They might also have issues with their vision and hearing, as well as their central nervous system (CNS).

Signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

There are several signs of FAS and FASD parents should look out for.

For physical signs that include poor growth:

  • Shorter height
  • Lower body weight
  • Small head
  • Smooth philtrum
  • Narrow eyes
  • Thin upper lip
  • Bad coordination
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Heart, bone, and/or kidney problems

For development issues, watch out for:

  • Poor memory
  • Hyperactivity
  • Behavioural problems
  • Issues with memory
  • Speech delays
  • Learning disabilities
  • Lower IQ

Just because your child fits some of the above criteria doesn’t necessarily mean they have FASD or FAS. However, if you notice any of these signs, it’s best to schedule an appointment with their paediatrician. That way, the doctor can help you figure out what’s causing development delays and get your child on track as best as possible.

Get Help With Your Alcohol Dependence Today

If you do decide to continue drinking when you’re pregnant, it’s important to identify how many units you are drinking. Drinkaware’s Drinking Tracker is an easy way to track the units in your drinks

If you have difficulty cutting down what you drink it’s still a good thing to address your dependence so you can ensure your baby is born as healthy as possible. So consider seeking professional help for substance abuse. The road to sobriety and good health will be much more attainable.

Would you like to hear more about rehabilitation? Then get in touch with us now. We’re happy to give you some free advice.







Author 'Jason


Jason has been writing expert articles and blog posts on issues related to addiction and mental health for Rehab Guide. Jason has a BA in Psychology, a Masters of Social Work and is currently working on his doctorate in social work.


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