Craving a Beer During Pregnancy: How Much Is Safe to Drink?

I really want a beer. So in an effort to slake this particular thirst, I embarked on a mission to prove that a little frothy beer wouldn’t hurt my developing fetus.


I really want a beer. It has been one of my more bizarre pregnancy cravings. So in an effort to slake this particular thirst, I embarked on a mission to prove that a little frothy beer wouldn't hurt my developing fetus.

I was dismayed to learn that no one, no medical literature or obstetrician, could justify my drinking a beer.

ACOG's official take is to abstain from alcohol before conception, and throughout pregnancy. Their brochure regarding Tobacco, Alcohol, Drugs and Pregnancy details their stance, explaining that an embryo's liver can't handle alcohol the way a mother's can. If my blood alcohol level is over-the-limit, their brochure explains, so is that of my fetus -- and a fetus's liver isn't prepared (as mine is) to process that much alcohol.

"The bottom line is that abstinence is best," Dr. Charles Lockwood, Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale-New Haven Hospital said, "But brief binges early in the first trimester are likely to pose no risks."

Well, that is a relief, since I drowned my sorrows in red wine after my misdiagnosed miscarriage at five weeks. But what about now? Is there any safe amount, or safe time to drink during pregnancy?

Apparently not.

"There isnt a lot of highly specific data to assess the minimal levels of alcohol that are safe in pregnancy," Lockwood said. "The prevalence of children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) among mothers that consume 1 to 2 ounces of absolute alcohol per day throughout pregnancy ranges from 10 to 50%. The effects are seen from exposure throughout pregnancy, not just in the first trimester. The Surgeon General and ACOG recommend complete abstinence – as do I."

"Certainly, exposure during the period between conception and the beginning of brain development -- roughly a week before to two weeks after conception, poses no risk," Lockwood added.

This is a relief, since an informal survey of my pregnant friends reveals I am not the only one to have had something to drink surrounding my conception dates.

I was also interested to learn the term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which refers to the range of disorders that can occur from alcohol consumption during pregnancy -- everything from FAS, which can be identifiable by prenatal ultrasounds, to symptoms that appear years later, such as the learning disabilities and hyperactivity that characterize alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND).

And nobody knows what amount of alcohol can be safely tolerated by a developing embryo or fetus. It may depend on an individual woman's tolerance level or spacing drinks out over a week -- it could be that drinking two ounces each day is worse than a big drink once in a while. But there is no definitive study that accurately calibrates the difference.

As Dr. Deirdre Lyell, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford School of Medicine, told me, "There is no known safe lower limit. While higher levels of alcohol can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, it isn't clear what level of consumption will lead to problems such as fetal alcohol effects."

I was certain, as I embarked on this research, that I would find at least one medical professional who would tell me that the beer I crave could do no harm to my developing fetus, as long as it was consumed in moderation. But I found a unanimous consensus against even a small amount.

Therefore, I won't be drinking during this pregnancy.

In addition to the massive guilt I would feel if my child suffered because of my inability to shun a good brew, the spectre of caring for a baby who suffers from the effects of FASD is too great, not to mention the special treatment required for an older child with FASD.

It's not worth it -- no amount, and at no time during pregnancy. So I'll toast the new year with sparking cider and look forward to a healthy new year for me and my fetus.
Erica Kain
Last Updated: June 01, 2009

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