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What Happens If You Drink Alcohol Before Knowing You’re Pregnant?

It’s just been confirmed! You’re going to have a baby! But, oops… last night you had a couple of glasses of alcohol before knowing you're pregnant.


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It’s just been confirmed! You’re going to have a baby! But, oops… last night you had a couple of glasses of alcohol before knowing you’re pregnant. Discovering that you’re pregnant plus realizing you’ve been drinking alcohol for the past several weeks can lead to a major freak out. But no need to panic! While health experts continually recommend not drinking alcohol during pregnancy, some research states that some alcohol in early pregnancy may not present a significant risk to the baby.

First of all, congratulations! Take a deep breath and enjoy this special time.

It is well known that cutting out alcohol is highly recommended during pregnancy. This is because the baby eats and drinks everything that the mother does, including alcohol – a toxin. If the baby is exposed to alcohol, it is at increased risk of developing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS leads to low birth weight, complications during pregnancy, and delays in growth and development. Alcohol can also have an effect during early childhood with the child at increased risk for developing learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and other Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASDs).

Take a deep breath and read the research

So why shouldn’t you freak out about this? Most women do not know they’re pregnant for up to 4-6 weeks. It’s understandable that if you do drink alcohol, you’ve probably had a few drinks in those weeks before you realized you’re pregnant. In 2013, the journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a study looking at the effects of drinking alcohol during the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. Of the 5,628 participants, 60% of the women consumed alcohol during early pregnancy ranging from low levels of drinking (1-2 drinks once or twice a week) to heavy drinking (8 or more drinks per week).

The results indicated no significant association between the amount or frequency of drinking alcohol and the incidence of low birth weight, pre-term or spontaneous birth, or pre-eclampsia (a life-threatening condition to the baby and mother). Another study published in 2012, showed that there was no effect of low to moderate alcohol consumption nor binge drinking during pregnancy on “executive functioning” (cognitive and behavioral activities) with 5-year-olds.

This is good news, right? Yes and no. While these particular studies might help calm your nerves, most of the research conveys a correlation between length and consistency of the fetus’ exposure to alcohol and problems with birth, growth, or development. Every woman’s pregnancy is different. Medical experts will always lean on the side of caution to keep both the mother and baby safe, and the CDC still states there is no known “safe” amount of alcohol consumption.

Drinking alcohol before knowing you’re pregnant

Bottom line, ladies, is that your baby is likely safe if you drank alcohol before knowing you’re pregnant, but it is best to say good-bye to alcohol as soon as you find out you’re pregnant to avoid any further risk of harm to your new baby. Pregnancies are highly individual, so always consult with your doctor if you have any concerns about your alcohol drinking habits.

Keep calm and read on for suggestions on how to treat you and your baby to healthy eating patterns after you find out you’re pregnant!

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Read the longer version

To learn more, read these articles reviewed by our professionals: What to know if you were drinking before you knew you were pregnant by Very Well Family, Drinking Alcohol in Early Pregnancy by Very Well Family, Drinking a little alcohol early in pregnancy may be okay by Harvard, Alcohol Use in Pregnancy by the CDC and Alcohol and Pregnancy Q&A also by the CDC.


Now that you know, stop drinking

Most importantly, stop drinking alcohol as soon as you find out you are pregnant. Consistent exposure to alcohol may impact you and your baby’s health.

Enjoy your pregnancy journey alcohol-free. Turn your favorite cocktails into mocktails. Swap in herbal teas, flavored waters, or sparkling juices. If you prefer not to be around alcohol-drinkers during this time, find non-alcoholic activities like joining pregnancy-approved exercise classes, taking up art classes, going on a shopping spree, or hosting a BYOD dinner party (Bring Your Own Dessert… to share!). 


Talk to your OB/GYN

Make an appointment with your primary doctor or OB/GYN and be honest discussing with him/her about your drinking habits (and all other eating habits while you’re at it). Don’t be afraid to talk about how often, how much, or how recently you drank alcohol. Honesty gives the doctor a more realistic idea of your pregnancy plan.


Find a nutritionist

Discuss your nutrition plan for pregnancy with your doctor or a registered dietitian nutritionist. Nutrition during first, second, third, and fourth trimester (post-partum) is unique to everyone, and it’s important for you and your baby to get exactly what you both need.

About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
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