Thoughtful Parenting: Alcohol use during pregnancy

Barbara Gueldner/For the Steamboat Today

It is important for women of childbearing age to be aware that if they drink alcohol while they are pregnant, there is a risk their fetus will develop problems associated with alcohol exposure. Alcohol in a woman’s blood is passed to the fetus through the umbilical cord and can interfere with development during the pregnancy. Consumption of alcohol, in any amount or at any time during a pregnancy, carries a risk of exposure. All kinds of alcohol are considered harmful.

Several factors contribute to how a fetus may be affected: blood alcohol concentration in a pregnant woman (the higher the concentration, the higher the risk of problems), a woman’s sensitivity to and metabolization of alcohol and the timing of alcohol exposure during the pregnancy. Binge drinking is particularly problematic because of the amount of alcohol consumed is so great.

Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy does not mean the child will definitely have a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, but no amount of use is considered 100 percent safe. Because many women do not know they are pregnant for several weeks after conception, it can be very stressful for women who drink alcohol and later discover they are pregnant.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is the term used to describe a variety of conditions that may be associated with individuals who were exposed to alcohol in utero. It is estimated approximately two to five percent of the U.S. population has an FASD. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a specific FASD and describes those who are most affected. Problems can include physical, behavioral and learning difficulties. Although aspects of FASD are considered lifelong conditions, symptoms may be managed or treated. Early intervention is important.

What can we do?

If you are a woman of childbearing age, consider whether you might become pregnant either intentionally or unintentionally, reflect upon your alcohol use and weigh the risks of alcohol consumption.

If you care about a woman of childbearing age who is pregnant and drinking alcohol, initiate a kind, compassionate and non-judgmental conversation. Simply listen. Women are not drinking to intentionally cause harm. It is more likely they don’t know they’re pregnant or are unaware of the impact alcohol can have.

If you are pregnant and have consumed or are consuming alcohol during your pregnancy, talk with a trusted medical provider, ask questions and ask for support. You are not alone. Many people have been in this situation.

If you have a child about whom you are concerned, talk with a medical provider, and find out about resources in the community. There are resources available to support you, your child and your family.

For this information and more, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at:

Barbara Gueldner, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist specializing in children and families. She is a member of First Impressions, the Early Childhood Council of Routt County. She is co-author of Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom and the Strong Kids and Strong Teens curricula. Find her at:

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