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Alcohol (Birth Defect Information: Exposures and Risk Factors)

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Drinking alcohol during pregnancy has been associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) – a range of effects which can include physical and mental disabilities and problems with behavior or learning. Another severe effect of drinking during pregnancy is Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) – which causes growth problems, abnormal facial features, and central nervous system problems.1 

Unfortunately, the effects of alcohol during pregnancy are not yet well understood although no level of alcohol use during pregnancy has been proven safe. We do know that alcohol passes through the placenta and because of a fetus’s immature body, the alcohol is broken down much more slowly than in adults. This results in the fetus having higher levels of alcohol in the blood for a longer period of time.

In addition to FASD and FAS, other adverse birth outcomes associated with drinking alcohol during pregnancy are:

  • Miscarriage2
  • Premature birth2
  • Stillbirth2
  • Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBDs)2
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopment disorders (ARNDs)2 
  • (For more information about the effects of alcohol on pregnancy and birth defects, please visit:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    FAS Diagnostic & Prevention Network


    1. (2005, 09 09). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Retrieved May 26, 2009, from Center For Disease Control and Prevention Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/factsheets/FAS.pdf (PDF)Opens a new browser window.
    2. (2008, November). Drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Retrieved July 6, 2009, from March of Dimes Web site: http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/14332_1170.asp
    Last modified on: 9/1/2009 1:40 PM