Think a glass of wine is safe while you’re pregnant? Think again, says a new report highlighting the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.
The report, published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics, identifies prenatal exposure to alcohol as the “leading preventable cause” of birth defects and intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities.
“The biggest message is that alcohol use during pregnancy is not safe,” said lead author Dr. Janet Williams, a former chair of the AAP’s committee on substance abuse.
The clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics stresses expectant mothers shouldn’t drink during any trimester of pregnancy, and reinforces the risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders or FASDs.
The umbrella term encompasses fetal alcohol syndrome — marked by certain facial features, such as smaller eyes, a thin upper lip, and a smooth space between the nose and lips — and a range of physical, emotional, behavioural and intellectual problems.
The report based its findings on the “large and growing body of research” that exists and did not include new original research.
In Canada, more than 3,000 babies are born with FASDs every year, according to Health Canada. The damage caused by mothers drinking during pregnancy costs more than $5 billion a year, noted a 2009 paper in the Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, co-written by Dr. Brenda Stade, head of the FASD clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
The level of impact is somewhat dose-related, Williams said. “Binge drinking — a big push of alcohol — is more likely to cause harm.”
But Williams stressed modern evidence shows no amount is safe, despite misconceptions to the contrary.
“None of the evidence that has come out has said, oh gee, we should loosen up on our beliefs,” she said.
Even so, modern moms-to-be often hear mixed messages about drinking.
Toronto mother Jennifer Beer recalled seeing warning campaigns about drinking during pregnancy, but also heard differing advice from friends and health-care workers.
“When I was pregnant with my son, I mentioned to my midwife at one of my regular checkups that I was craving a glass of white wine. She looked almost shocked, and replied, ‘You mean you haven’t had anything to drink this whole time?’ ” Beer said.
Stade said clear messages are key so expectant mothers aren’t confused. She agreed with the American Academy of Pediatrics report’s main message that no amount of alcohol is safe during a pregnancy.
But she did raise concerns about the report alarming women unnecessarily.
“Some women do drink before they know they’re pregnant, and I wouldn’t want them to get so scared that it will cause fetal alcohol syndrome,” she said.
“Reports like this have come out over the years and have really scared women and they want to abort.” Stade said women who know they are pregnant should abstain from alcohol completely.
She suggested women talk to their doctor about consuming alcohol during pregnancy.