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Alcohol Absolutely Not Safe During Pregnancy
By Leigh Ann Woodruff, February 1, 2012
Even though "safe" amounts of alcohol have been debated, in light of two new studies, there's just no question when it comes to drinking alcohol during pregnancy. There is NO safe level of alcohol, and women should just not do it — and that goes for alcohol during fertility treatment as well.
Alcohol and Miscarriage
A recent study from Denmark found that women who drank just two drinks a week had 1.5 times the risk of miscarriage compared with those who didn't drink at all. The researchers surveyed mothers on the amount of alcohol they drank weekly during the first four months of pregnancy.
"The study examined the risk of miscarriage and alcohol consumption in the first trimester," says Brad Miller, M.D., a fertility doctor and founder of Reproductive Medicine Associates of Michigan. "Interestingly they found even one or two drinks per week increased risk for miscarriage by 5 percent. If they consumed two to three drinks per week, there was a 66 percent increased risk for miscarriage, and those consuming four or more drinks per week, the risk of miscarriage doubled."
Dr. Miller explains that there is no "threshold" or "safe" level of alcohol with regards to miscarriage. "Even one drink increases the risk for miscarriage by a small percentage," he says. "This risk increases dramatically as a number of drinks per week go up. Therefore, we must recommend no alcohol consumption during pregnancy at any time."
Alcohol and Birth Defects
Another study, published by University of California, San Diego, researchers in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, found that even women who averaged less than one drink per day still had babies with some fetal alcohol syndrome characteristics.
"The study on fetal alcohol syndrome reaffirms what we have known for a long time, that is consumption of alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk for certain birth defects," Dr. Miller says. "There is no threshold effect, which means the more alcohol consumed the more severe birth defect. In other words, there is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy."
The study looked at nearly 1,000 women between 1978 and 2005 who drank at least once during their pregnancies. The women were interviewed throughout their pregnancies, so the study did not rely on the mothers' recall.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is an array of physical and mental abnormalities, including learning disabilities, language delays, poor concentration and low IQ. The study found that for every increase of one alcoholic drink in the average daily consumption, the women's babies were 12 percent more likely to have a small head circumference, 16 percent more likely to have low birth weight and over 20 percent more likely to have a very thin upper lip or lack a vertical indentation between their noses and lips. These characteristics are typical of fetal alcohol syndrome and often indicate cognitive and behavior problems later in life.
Alcohol and Fertility Treatment
Dr. Miller says that when undergoing fertility treatment, the patient should act as if already pregnant. "As far as infertility patients are concerned, we treat them as if they were pregnant already and recommend no alcohol consumption during any type of fertility treatment, " he explains. "We do not restrict alcohol consumption prior to IVF treatment; however, once treatment has been initiated, we recommend absolutely no consumption of alcohol. This applies to both during and after treatment up to the pregnancy test. If the pregnancy test is negative, the restriction would be lifted."
He says his patients do adhere to recommendations on alcohol. "In general, our patient's are very compliant and are willing to do anything that will improve their odds of success."