Alcohol (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) is clearly a teratogen. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a group of related birth defects including some facial abnormalities, growth retardation, and varying levels of mental retardation. The problem is dose-related. That is, the more one drinks, the greater the chance of FAS (or some aspects of it). However, several aspects of the problem are still quite unclear.

The experts state that there is NO KNOWN SAFE LIMIT for alcohol ingestion during pregnancy. However, there are no good scientific studies that show that an occasional drink carries a measurable risk. There are case reports of a single alcoholic drink being associated with aspects of FAS (but case reports are considered to be poor science on which to draw conclusions). However, the chance that a fetus has been significantly affected by a single drink is very low. Many women have had some amount of alcohol before they realized they were pregnant. What is not known about the problem of FAS is “how much” and “during what point in pregnancy” is alcohol capable of causing FAS (or any aspects of it).

Oddly enough, it was not too long ago that alcohol was used as a drug to treat premature labor. Intoxicating amounts of alcohol were given intravenously (IV). It didn’t work, and the practice has been abandoned. There is a not a good argument for sanctioning any alcohol use during pregnancy. However, can a woman have an occasional drink during pregnancy? How much is too much? And, when in pregnancy is there a danger? No one really knows. Clearly, the worse cases of FAS are seen in women with alcoholism who drink more than 3 drinks per day.

This much is clear. If you have an alcohol problem (or if you have friends or family who think you have a problem) and are unable to COMPLETELY STOP drinking when you realize you are pregnant, you need to talk to your health care clinician immediately and get some help. Alcoholic beverages include beer, wine, wine coolers, mixed drinks, and distilled spirits (such as whiskey, vodka, gin, and tequila).

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