What Happens if You Drink Alcohol While Pregnant?

Medically Reviewed on 8/26/2021

Effects of alcohol

If you are pregnant, drinking alcohol can affect your baby. Drinking alcohol while pregnant affects your mood; damages your heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system; increases the risk of cancer and increases your risk of miscarriage.
If you are pregnant, drinking alcohol can affect your baby. Drinking alcohol while pregnant affects your mood; damages your heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system; increases the risk of cancer and increases your risk of miscarriage.

If you are pregnant, drinking alcohol can affect you and your baby. Any form of alcohol, including beer or wine, can be equally harmful.

‌Whether you are a heavy drinker or a social drinker, no amount of alcohol is safe to drink while pregnant. There’s no safe time to have alcohol during your pregnancy.

Drinking alcohol can affect you in the following ways:

  • Alcohol can interfere with your brain’s pathways and change your mood or behavior. It’ll affect the part of your brain responsible for thinking and coordination.
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol can damage your heart and cause conditions like high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy (a heart muscle disease), arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), and stroke.
  • Heavy drinking can affect your liver, causing conditions like liver cirrhosis and fatty liver disease.
  • Alcohol can cause your pancreas to swell up — resulting in pancreatitis.
  • Drinking too much alcohol is associated with a high risk of cancer.
  • Alcohol also weakens your immune system — making your body an easy target for infections and diseases.
  • Alcohol can affect your baby and increase your chances of miscarriage.

How drinking alcohol affects your unborn baby

‌If you drink while pregnant, the alcohol in your blood passes to your baby through the umbilical cord. Your baby's liver — which is responsible for removing alcohol from the blood — doesn’t develop until the later months of pregnancy. So, your baby can’t process the alcohol at all.

This alcohol exposure affects your baby’s development and leads to poor mental and physical growth in the womb — endangering their life.

In the first 6 months of pregnancy, drinking alcohol can have the following effects on your unborn baby:‌

  • Low birth weight of lower than 5 pounds and 8 ounces
  • Premature birth — you go into labor before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • Miscarriage — your baby dies before 20 weeks or 5 months of pregnancy
  • Stillbirth — your baby dies after 20 weeks or 5 months of pregnancy
  • Birth defects like heart problems or hearing issues
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

‌Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of your baby developing fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. These disorders are a set of physical and mental conditions that occur in someone whose mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders include:

If your unborn baby is exposed to a lot of alcohol, they may undergo alcohol withdrawal for the first few weeks after birth. The withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Fussiness or irritability
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Feeding problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Irregular heart rates
  • Breathing problems
  • ‌Digestive problems
  • Trouble sleeping

These symptoms can be treated, but developmental problems caused by alcohol exposure may persist over your baby’s lifetime.

A child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder may have the following physical features:

  • Short height
  • Low weight
  • Small head size
  • Small, narrow eyes
  • Philtrum — a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip ‌

They may also have developmental issues affecting their heart, bones, kidney, vision, or hearing.

They may also show mental issues including:‌

  • Poor memory
  • Learning disability
  • Attention problems and shifting focus
  • Difficulty in following directions
  • Speech and language delays
  • Intellectual disability and low intelligence quotient or IQ
  • Poor judgment skills
  • Hyperactivity
  • Emotional and behavioral issues
  • Poor social and daily life skills

‌Over time, these issues increase the risk of the child developing mental health issues, conduct disorders, alcohol use disorders, and drug addiction.

If you think that your child has a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, you must seek medical advice from a pediatrician or child psychiatrist.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases your unborn baby’s risk of all the above mentioned issues. The effects that alcohol can have on your baby’s development in your womb can’t be reversed, but medication and therapy can help your child lead a better life.

Quitting alcohol

‌If you are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy, it’s never too late to stop drinking alcohol. You may find it difficult, but the sooner you give up drinking, the better it will be for you and your baby.

Try to stay away from parties and places where you drink. You can get rid of all alcohol at home.

If you can’t do this, consult with your doctor for treatments to stop consuming alcohol. You can also join support programs that help pregnant women quit drinking.


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Medically Reviewed on 8/26/2021

American Addiction Centers: "Dangers of Alcohol During Pregnancy (Safety & Effects)."

CDC: "Alcohol Use in Pregnancy."


NHS: "Drinking alcohol while pregnant."

NIH: "Alcohol's Effects on the Body."

Paediatrics & Child Health: "Fetal alcohol syndrome: What you should know about drinking during pregnancy."