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Striving to Prevent Birth Defects
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Utah Birth Defect Network

Striving to Prevent Birth Defects 

Improving a child’s lifelong health by preventing alcohol-related birth defects:

Facts and Recommendations

  • When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby, and the consequences may be devastating.  

According to the March of Dimes (1), when a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol passes quickly through the placenta to her baby. In the unborn baby’s immature body, alcohol is broken down more slowly than in an adult’s body, so that the alcohol level of the baby’s blood can be higher and last longer than in the mother’s blood. This can be harmful for the baby.


  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2), fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading preventable cause of birth defects.

Fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS, is a permanent, lifelong condition associated with alcohol exposure in pregnancy, and affects every aspect of a child’s life and the lives of the child’s family.


  • The effects of alcohol may cause a recognizable pattern of physical and neurological findings called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).


In addition to full blown FAS, which includes specific physical findings, alcohol may also contribute to developmental defects, behavior and learning problems, and difficulties with memory, attention and judgment.  Alcohol can also sometimes cause low birth weight, prematurity, and physical birth defects in the developing baby.   


Even though some children exposed to alcohol during pregnancy may not show the full syndrome, but still struggle throughout life with behavioral and learning problems.


  • FAS does not occur only in children of mothers who are heavy drinkers: anyone who drinks wine, wine coolers, beer or liquor during pregnancy may put her baby at risk.

Most pregnant women who drink do not intentionally harm their unborn babies. In most cases, they simply do not know about FAS or fully understand the risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 10% of all pregnant women consume alcohol during their pregnancy.  Thousands of babies may be placed at risk because of their mother’s drinking (3).


  • There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy.


For this reason, the March of Dimes recommends that pregnant women do not drink any alcohol—including beer, wine, wine coolers and hard liquor— throughout their pregnancy and while nursing. In addition, because women often do not know they are pregnant for a few months, women who may be pregnant or those who are attempting to become pregnant should abstain from alcoholic beverages (1).


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further recommends that, because half of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, that women who are sexually active and do not use effective birth control should also refrain from drinking because they could become pregnant and not be aware of the pregnancy for several weeks (3).


  • The effects of alcohol on the developing baby are 100% preventable.


Give your baby the best chance possible:  don’t drink alcohol if you are pregnant or could become pregnant. If someone important to you is pregnant, encourage and support her decision to not drink.  



To find out more (selected information and resources on the internet):


(1) www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/681_1170.asp

(2) www.cdc.gov/mmwR/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5506a1.htm

(3) www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fas/