Some of the most common questions on message boards for women who are trying to become pregnant are these: Can I continue to drink alcohol while I try to conceive? And if I might be pregnant, can I continue to drink alcohol until I get a positive result on a pregnancy test? Often the response to these questions is “drink ’til it’s pink,” meaning that consuming alcohol until a positive pregnancy test is achieved will not harm the developing baby. However, studies strongly recommend that women who are trying to become pregnant or suspect that they are pregnant should not consume alcohol.
In 2005, the U.S. Surgeon General warned pregnant women and women who may become pregnant to abstain from alcohol use. The warning was issued to prevent the chance of giving birth to a baby with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The birth defects that are associated with FASD include mild to severe learning disabilities, growth deficiencies, abnormal facial features, and central nervous system disorders. According to the Surgeon General, a baby can be affected by alcohol use even during the earliest weeks after conception – even before a mother knows she is pregnant. Another study has linked alcohol consumption during pregnancy to an increased risk of preterm delivery.
According to information from the March of Dimes, a baby’s brain and other organs begin developing around the third week of pregnancy. During these early developmental weeks, the brain and organs are vulnerable to damage. The March of Dimes recommends that a woman should stop drinking immediately if a she suspects that she may be pregnant, and further recommends that women trying to conceive should not drink alcohol at all.
Despite this advice, many women who are pregnant continue to drink alcohol. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study regarding alcohol use among pregnant women, new mothers, and women who were not pregnant. Data for 2006 and 2007 indicates that alcohol use among women aged 15 to 44 was lower for those women who were pregnant (11.6 percent) than for recent mothers (42.1 percent). Women who were not pregnant and not recent mothers had the highest rate of use at 54.0 percent.
The medical evidence suggests that drinking alcohol during the early weeks of a baby’s development poses a risk to the developing fetus. Accordingly, women who drink alcohol if they suspect they are pregnant or while trying to conceive may be placing their unborn children at risk. Operating on the advice of anonymous, though no doubt well-intentioned women, from a website to “drink ’til it’s pink” may be placing your unborn child at risk of birth defects. Do your own research before making the choice to consume alcohol if you might be pregnant or are trying to become pregnant. Weigh the evidence for yourself and decide whether drinking alcohol while pregnant is a risk you want to take or not.
Albertsen, K., Andersen, A.M., Olsen, J., & Gronbaek, M. (2004). Alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the risk of preterm delivery. American Journal of Epidemiology, 159, 155-161.
March of Dimes, “Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy.”
Office of the Surgeon General, “U.S. Surgeon General Releases Advisory on Alcohol Use in Pregnancy,” February 21, 2005.
The NASDUH Report, “Alcohol Use among Pregnant Women and Recent Mothers: 2002 to 2007,” U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.