Q. I am 35 weeks pregnant and have had 1 or 2 glasses of wine per night. Im a little scared now with everything I’ve read about FAS and I’m wondering if there is any testing that can be done to ensure my baby’s well being.”
It’s true that drinking alcohol can have a number of serious effects on a developing baby, including physical deformities and behavioral and learning problems. “Moderate” drinking, defined as 7 – 14 drinks a week, has been linked to children with life-long learning, behavioral, attention and memory problems. And there is not kind of testing that can be performed before birth to determine if your baby has fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or was otherwise effected by any alcohol that you drank, though a baby with FAS may show signs at birth or later on.
But in better news, research appears to show that there’s a major difference in outcomes between babies and kids whose moms drank 1 – 2 drinks a day versus those whose moms drank 7 – 14 drinks all at once. More than one study has confirmed that binge drinking- defined as four or more drinks within a couple of hours- can have lasting effects on developing babies. But other studies have found that drinking 1-2 drinks “per occasion” (as in once or twice a week) while pregnant is not necessarily harmful, and one British study even found it to be beneficial, with kids of moms who had 1 – 2 drinks per week actually performing better on tests of cognitive ability.
Why might that be? It seems to have to do with a certain enzyme, called ADH and ALDH, which help the body metabolize alcohol: some women genetically just have more of these enzymes, so they can process alcohol more quickly and better protect the baby. On the other hand women who were born with fewer of these enzymes will have fetuses that will be strongly affected in the womb by even a few drinks. (Men have about twice as many of these enzymes as women, which is why men are able to drink about twice as much as women before they become impaired). What a person’s eaten before drinking is another major factor, drinking quickly on an empty stomach will magnify alcohol’s effects, slowly sipping on a full stomach is safer.
So while you can’t change anything that may have already happened, if you only had a single drink a day, slowly and on a full stomach, chances are excellent that your baby is just fine.