Alcohol use in first weeks of pregnancy raises risks
Alcohol use during the first five to 10 weeks of pregnancy is linked to a risk of miscarriage that grows each week with continued use, according to a recent study.
The findings suggest that “no amount (of alcohol use) can be suggested as safe regarding pregnancy loss,” said one of the study’s investigators, Katherine Hartmann, MD, PhD, vice president for Research Integration at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Each week of alcohol exposure during early pregnancy was linked with an 8 percent rise in the risk of miscarriage compared to non-drinkers, with a 37 percent greater risk after 29 days. The research was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The study is cause for concern because “almost half of all pregnancies are unintended and women often don't find out that they're pregnant until they miss their period by a week or two,” said Joshua M. Lupton, DO, of Cape Cod Hospital Obstetrics & Gynecology. “This is only one study, but it certainly raises a lot of good questions. Even one or two drinks here and there during the first few weeks of pregnancy could be very harmful potentially.”
The study could change the way doctors talk to women about alcohol, Lupton said.
“I understand it’s a difficult one to sell to women. You have to be very compelling to say, ‘If you want to become pregnant or you might become pregnant or you're not on reliable birth control, you can drink very little or no alcohol, because it could be potentially harmful to your baby.’
“For women who are pregnant, obviously we recommend no alcohol because it's not proven to be safe at any level, but for other women, unless they’re on reliable birth control, they should consume as little alcohol as possible.”
Weeks three through eight are a key part of a pregnancy, he said.
“That's the period where the building blocks of all the organs – including the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system and the facial structures and the arms and legs – are all being built and put together.”
One in six recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, and that loss can be devastating, he said.
“It has an emotional cost, it has a financial cost, it has a psychosocial cost,” he said. “I talk to women every week in our office who are diagnosed with a miscarriage and they're always in tears and it's very traumatic.”