Even a Little Bit of Alcohol Can Affect Your Baby in a Surprising Way

Think that light drinking during pregnancy won't affect your baby? Recent research indicates that the effects could be written all over your baby's face.

pregnant woman drinking alcohol Roberts Photography/Shutterstock
Alcohol use during pregnancy is one of the most controversial prenatal issues out there—and the fact that it's so hotly debated stems from the fact there are so many unknowns where fetal alcohol exposure is concerned. There is no known amount of alcohol that's safe to consume during pregnancy, which leads us to believe that total avoidance is the best way to go. 

But not everyone holds that belief: There are plenty of women out there who continue to imbibe while they're trying to conceive, and others still who have the occasional drink after they've seen that positive pregnancy test. It stems from the idea that it takes "excessive" drinking to lead to devastating, permanent issues like fetal alcohol syndrome.

But according to new research published in JAMA Pediatrics, even light drinking may have the power to affect your baby. 

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders often present with unusually shaped facial features—but this particular study demonstrated that exposure to even a small amount of alcohol can change the way your child's face forms. 

Researchers from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute observed facial photos of 415 one-year-old babies taken from several different angles. The team used software to create 3D photos, and based on the study of those, they observed subtle differences between those whose mothers drank during pregnancy and those who were not exposed to alcohol.

But while this research is clearly worth considering before you pick up that glass of wine, there's a bit of reassuring news for pregnant women who have had a few drinks already: For one thing, the study's authors pointed out that those facial differences are subtle to the point that they may not even be visible to the naked eye, and these changes may not be permanent, as facial features can change in the first few years of life.

Also worth noting? The way the study defines "light drinking." In this context, it's defined as no more than two drinks in a sitting and no more than seven drinks in a week. While that should reassure women who have sipped a glass or two of champagne throughout their entire pregnancies, it's also important to remember that there's no threshold of alcohol consumption where the effect suddenly becomes damaging.

With that in mind, we'll stand by what we've been saying: When it comes to drinking during pregnancy, complete abstinence is your safest option.