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Alcohol Risks During Pregnancy

Even low-level alcohol use during pregnancy can impact a child's brain development.

Alcohol during pregnancy

The warnings hold true: Women who are pregnant are best advised to become teetotallers. According to an investigation in The American Journal of Psychiatry, children now ages 9–11 who were exposed to low levels of alcohol in utero at any time during pregnancy experience more psychological and emotional problems (including anxiety, depression and being withdrawn) and behavioral problems (including poor attention and being impulsive) than their unexposed peers.

Low levels of drinking were considered one to two drinks per single occasion with a maximum of six drinks per week. With a sample size of 9,719 youth from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, it was also reported that there was a 25% increased likelihood of an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder diagnosis in children who were exposed to slightly heavier levels of alcohol (approximately 36 drinks) in the first 6–7 weeks of pregnancy. There were differences observed in brain volume and surface area among the exposed offspring which likely contributed to the psychological and behavioral issues.

Of concern, the majority of drinks were consumed in the first 7 weeks before pregnancy knowledge. Children experienced negative mental effects even if they were only exposed to low levels of alcohol during very early pregnancy and then the mother stopped drinking. So even when planning pregnancy, it is safer to say cheers with mocktails.

See also: Caffeine and Pregnancy Outcomes



Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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