Is Occasional Drinking During Pregnancy Safe For A Developing Baby?

The prenatal period is an incredible time when your baby quite literally takes form. It is no small feat of development, as it rapidly grows through an act of miraculous biology. According to Healthline, during the first trimester — around week 5 — the embryo begins to develop its brain. And by week 7, the embryo's brain morphs into three anatomically separable areas — front, middle, and back — as the brain cells begin to signal and coordinate in the spinal cord. This might coincide with its first bodily motions. During the second trimester, as the brain develops towards something akin to the mature brain, the growing fetus may do a number of incredible movements like suck, swallow, and everyone's favorite — kick. By the end of the third trimester, the baby's brain is hemispherically halved and experiences swift growth.

With all of this developmental action going on, it is important to know what to consume, or avoid, to provide your unborn baby with the right nutrition. Until the 1970s, drinking alcohol during pregnancy was not thought to be a  cause for concern, but then noticeable shortfalls in development related to growth, facial features, and neurodevelopment caused a shift in thinking (via American Psychological Association). Still, you might wonder if the occasional drink or two is okay during pregnancy. Here's everything you need to know.

Should you drink any alcohol while pregnant?

According to a 2020 study published in the journal of Brain Imaging and Behavior, various methods of brain imaging revealed that prenatal alcohol exposure can negatively affect the connectivity of the newborn baby's brain compared to those that were not exposed to prenatal alcohol. These disruptions affect the brain network's ability to form proper connections and operate at expected levels. This neuroscientific finding adds to a building body of evidence that prenatal exposure to alcohol increases the risk of difficulty with motor abilities and self-control, in addition to other things (via UCLA Health). For example, prenatal exposure to alcohol may also lead to issues with learning and speech and even delay the acquisition of language (per ScienceDaily).

According to Healthline, even just a drink now and then can negatively impact the brain development of the fetus, citing a breakout study presented at the Radiological Society of North America's yearly meeting. The yet-to-be peer-reviewed study is the first to demonstrate changes in the prenatal brain in utero. However, the jury is still out on just how much alcohol can cause issues. While some experts do not recommend any consumption, others point to data showing that minimal to moderate alcohol consumption does not lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.