Is It OK To Drink Beer When Pregnant? Guidelines & Risks

Experts recommend that pregnant women abstain from all forms of alcohol consumption, including beer

While some studies suggest that light drinking during pregnancy may not increase health risks to the fetus, a “safe” amount of alcohol has never been determined, and it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Alcohol that passes into your baby’s bloodstream can risk the development of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

“Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person who was exposed to alcohol before birth.

These effects can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning.”

As we’ll discover, there are many conflicting views in the medical world about what is considered safe and what isn’t when it comes to drinking beer and other alcohol while pregnant.

Alcohol Consumption in Early Pregnancy

In 2020, Harvard Health Publishing shared findings of a study that reported small amounts of alcohol early in pregnancy to be less risky than previously believed.

The study claimed that minimal alcohol use in the first trimester (weeks 1-12) didn’t appear to increase the risk of birth complications or high blood pressure.

This is at odds with national public health agencies such as the CDC that state that alcohol use during any time in the first three months of pregnancy can cause problems.

Worst Time To Drink During Pregnancy

The US National Library of Medicine echoes the view of the CDC that alcohol use appears to be most harmful in the first 3 months of pregnancy.

However, not enough is known about the effects of drinking at particular times to be able to say that any time is really safe.

How Much Alcohol Is Safe During Pregnancy?

In normal circumstances, the NIAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) guidelines for safe alcoholic consumption in women is no more than 7 drinks per week, so anything less than this can be considered low levels.

However, there is no tangible “safe” amount of alcohol during pregnancy.

According to the ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), just one drink per day may cause lifelong problems for your baby.

Is It Safe To Drink 1 Beer While Pregnant?

There simply are not enough concrete research findings to suggest that one beer or alcoholic drink is completely safe during pregnancy. 

One drink can be defined as 12 ounces of beer, and 12 ounces of beer typically contains 5% alcohol (about 14 grams of pure alcohol).

Drinking a single standard beer during pregnancy is obviously less likely to do harm than if you were to consume stronger beers or ales (above 5%).

What if I Drank Before I Knew I Was Pregnant?

Serious harm to your baby is unlikely if you drank alcohol before you were aware of your pregnancy.

The important thing is that you stop drinking as soon as you learn you are pregnant.

The sooner you stop, the better the outcome for your baby’s health.

Does Alcohol Cross the Placenta?

Yes. The placenta is not an alcohol filter, so when you drink during pregnancy, the alcohol passes from your bloodstream through the placenta before arriving in the baby’s bloodstream.

As babies have an undeveloped liver, the alcohol cannot be processed efficiently and remains in the baby’s brain and body for several hours.

This can cause harm to the baby.

Is It Illegal To Drink Alcohol When Pregnant?

There are currently no state laws prohibiting pregnant women from drinking alcohol.

The general view is that alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy.

Women in vulnerable groups such as low-income and black/African-American communities may be more likely to face pressures and reproach for drinking during pregnancy.

Why Abstaining From Alcohol Is Best

Alcohol during pregnancy is a personal decision.

Some doctors tell their patients that the odd celebratory glass of wine during special occasions and cooking with alcohol is fine, but others condemn this view completely.

This can muddy the waters of what is and what isn’t recommended, so it’s probably best to abstain from the stuff altogether.

Let’s find out why this is.

Studies Are Limited Regarding Light Consumption

The impact of heavy drinking or binge drinking during pregnancy is well-researched, but more studies are needed on the effects of having an occasional alcoholic beverage while pregnant. 

However, this study from 2014 highlighted the detrimental effects of what is considered low-level consumption (less than daily drinking), concluding that even mild drinking could be associated detrimentally with child behavior.

The safest course of action is to avoid alcohol altogether while carrying your child.

A pregnant couple sitting on the floor toasting with glasses of wine.

It’s Unclear How Much Is Too Much

Not only is the research unclear as to the “safe” and “unsafe” amounts of alcohol during pregnancy, but there are also personal factors with each individual pregnancy that may alter how much is considered too much.

For example, some women have naturally higher levels of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.

David Garry, associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and chair of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Task Force for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, explains:

“If a pregnant woman with low levels of this enzyme drinks, her baby may be more susceptible to harm because the alcohol may circulate in her body for a longer period of time.”

The Potential for Harm Is Not Worth It

The effects of light consumption or an occasional drink during pregnancy may be limited, but the expert opinion on the debilitating effects of drinking alcohol in general during pregnancy is plain.

Dr. David Garry notes:

“The way I see it is: If you wouldn’t give a 2-month-old a glass of wine, then why would you drink a glass of wine when you”re pregnant?”

When all is said and done, the best way to safeguard against any potential harm to your unborn baby is to simply not drink any alcohol at all. 

Drinking while pregnant (or even trying to become pregnant) is a personal choice, but many experts suggest that even mild drinking and the risks that come with it are simply not worth it.

Effects of Alcohol on Fetus

Alcohol exposure at any stage during pregnancy can result in FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), which can lead to birth defects and neurodevelopmental disorders.

According to the CDC, the effects of alcohol on the fetus can manifest in:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Small head size and height
  • Abnormal facial features (i.e., a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip)
  • Behavioral problems (hyperactivity, attention difficulties)
  • Seizures
  • Visual and/or hearing impairment
  • Poor memory
  • Poor coordination
  • Speech and language delays
  • Poor reasoning and judgment
  • Sleep issues as a baby

Need Help To Stop Drinking Alcohol?

If you find it hard to stop drinking, there is help available to you.

Speak with your doctor or ob-gyn about your concerns.

They will be able to offer advice, suggest counseling, and provide potential treatment plans to help manage withdrawal symptoms and support you throughout your pregnancy.

You may also find the following organizations helpful if you are struggling with alcohol during pregnancy: