How harmful is drinking alcohol while pregnant?

A few days ago while scrolling through face book and mostly ignoring everything on the screen, my attention was drawn to a meme of a woman laying an a hospital bed after giving birth with her baby in one hand and a glass of wine in the other with a caption along the lines of, “after nine months of sobriety..” This picture made me think of how it must be pretty difficult for some people to stop drinking for the length of a whole pregnancy. It also made me question whether there are real negative effects on the baby if one decides to continue to drink.

 The null hypothesis in this situation is that there are no effects on a child if its mother consumes alcohol while it is growing inside of her. The alternative hypothesis is that those who are consuming alcohol while pregnant, are directly effecting their child. One study that I found regarding this question shows evidence that there are 428 different conditions that fall under FASD or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which (explained on Wikipedia) is basically a name for all the negative health effects that occur when the mother of a child drinks during pregnancy. The study is a meta-analysis and Figure 1 below shows the selection process of the studies used to build the results. I think it is very interesting how meticulous this process seems to be. There is specific criteria (stated in the study) that a study had to meet to become part of the meta-analysis. I believe that the reason for this is to make the study as legitimate as possible by looking out for things like consistency in the results, sample sizes and consideration of cofounding variables. 


Conclusion from this study: it obviously gives much evidence towards the fact that heavy drinking during pregnancy is harmful to the baby.


Another study that I found on the topic was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. a group of 633 pregnant women agreed to take part in the study. They were split into three groups based on the amount of alcohol they consumed during their pregnancy. Group 1 drank the least while group 3 drank the most. They took the women’s body mass index into consideration when forming the standards for these groups. This allows the results to be more consistent, and makes the study more legitimate. They surveyed the women on other nutritional guidelines they followed and the results were pretty constant among the groups. Therefore, that can be ruled out from being a cofounding variable. However, they found that heavier smoking and drinking went hand and hand for these women. Therefore, tobacco intake could be considered a cofounding variable. The babies were examined for congenital, growth, and neurological issues. In group one, 35% of the babies had issues in at least one of these categories. In group two, 36% of the babies had issues and in group three, 71% of the babies had issues. Figures 1 & 2 give a visual of the differences in effects between the three groups.



The mechanism (explained in the study and this article) behind these findings and all of the evidence that I found supporting the alternative hypothesis is pretty simple. After consuming alcohol, it goes straight from your blood stream, into the unborn baby’s bloodstream, stunting growth and causing many different issues in its body. I found the difference between group one and two to be very interesting. There are only 1% differences found between those who never or rarely drank and those in between rare and heavy drinking.

So, this information raises a more specific question: At what point does alcohol consumption of a pregnant woman become harmful to the baby? It is obvious that there are major effects on the health of the baby if his or her mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy, however the amount of alcohol that is “safe” to drink is very uncertain. When looking through different studies on this topic, I found that there were very contradicting and mixed results. This article explains that most medical professionals will say that one should just abstain from alcohol while pregnant because of this lack of knowledge. This situation relates to our SC200 class on vaccines. We went over the notion that nothing is really safe, so it is necessary to make a reasonable decision within the context of the situation at hand. Therefore, in this case it is logical that doctors are recommending that no risks should be taken considering the question is dealing with one human affecting the life and health of an unborn child.

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