Can Drinking Alcohol Cause a Miscarriage?

How much and how often you drink can affect your baby's health

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Most people know that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix, but what exactly are the risks? Can alcohol cause miscarriages?

Alcohol may or may not cause miscarriages, there are a lot of factors involved such as how much and how often you drink. Research shows that partaking in a few episodes of binge drinking while you are pregnant is not likely to cause early miscarriages. However, regular drinking during pregnancy, such as having five or more drinks per week on a regular basis, can cause miscarriage.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Drinking alcohol raises your blood alcohol level. As an adult, your body has the ability to process this alcohol. When you drink while pregnant, the alcohol in your bloodstream passes to the fetus. Meaning, the fetus has the same blood alcohol levels as you do. This is detrimental to a developing baby because they are significantly smaller and lack the ability to process the alcohol you drink.

If you drink while pregnant, your baby may develop fetal alcohol syndrome. No one knows exactly how much alcohol causes the disorder, which is why most advise against drinking entirely. Fetal alcohol syndrome can cause a variety of health problems ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome include:

  • Physical deformities as well as bone and joint issues
  • Facial abnormalities
  • Low birth weight
  • Delayed development
  • Learning disabilities
  • Behavioral issues (aggression, hyperactivity, antisocial behavior)
  • Hearing loss
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Speech impairments
  • Vision issues
  • Anxiety and depression

While symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome can be managed after birth, there is no way to undo the alcohol-related damage a child with fetal alcohol syndrome has.

Since the baby is developing throughout the entire pregnancy, drinking at any time can be dangerous. Research shows the most dangerous time to drink is late in the first trimester. Most doctors advise against drinking alcohol while pregnant. Others may be a bit more flexible, saying an occasional glass of wine is fine. However, while some doctors might be more flexible with their recommendations, organizations like the CDC are more rigid, going so far as recommending that women thinking about trying to conceive or not using any form of birth control (condoms, oral contraceptives, IUD, etc) abstain from drinking entirely.

If you had an early-term miscarriage and are wondering why the pregnancy did not take, that glass or two of wine you had before you knew you were pregnant is an unlikely cause.


Henderson, Jane, Ulrik Kesmodel, and Ron Gray, "Systematic review of the fetal effects of prenatal binge-drinking." BMJ 2007. Accessed 15 Mar 2008.

Rasch, V., "Cigarette, alcohol, and caffeine consumption: risk factors for spontaneous abortion." Acta Obstetrics Gynecology Scandinavia Feb 2003. Accessed 15 Mar 2008.

Strandberg-Larsen, Katrine, Naja Rod Nielsen, Morten Grønbæk, Per Kragh Andersen, and Anne-Marie Nybo Andersen, "Binge Drinking in Pregnancy and Risk of Fetal Death." Obstetrics & Gynecology 2008. Accessed 15 Mar 2008.

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