Risks of Alcohol Abuse in the First Trimester of Pregnancy

Glass of alcohol balancing on a pregnant belly

Alcohol abuse and the first trimester of pregnancy do not make for a healthy beginning to your baby's development. Alcohol abuse during any part of pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, learning disabilities, and birth defects.

First Trimester

During the first eight weeks of pregnancy, the baby is called an embryo, which then develops into a fetus. The first trimester of pregnancy concludes at the end of week 12. In many cases, the woman is not even aware that she is pregnant until she has missed her first period, at which point she is approximately six weeks pregnant. During these first 12 weeks of pregnancy, a lot is happening in the embryo and developing fetus, including development of the fetus's brain and nervous system. The fetus is very susceptible to damage from anything in the mothers diet, especially alcohol. If a pregnant woman drinks even one glass of wine, the baby will get the alcohol in his system very quickly and at a much higher concentration because he is so small.

Development in the First Trimester

All of the baby's major organs begin forming in the first four weeks of pregnancy (when the mother may not even be aware she is pregnant). Following is a list of what develops in the first trimester:

  • All major systems and organs
  • Neural tube, which becomes the brain and spinal cord
  • The digestive system
  • Heart
  • Circulatory system
  • Ears
  • Eyes
  • Limbs

The Danger of Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy

Alcohol abuse and the first trimester of pregnancy may cause the mother to miscarry or lose the baby, according to the Center for Disease Control. If she is able to carry the baby until the end of the pregnancy she may give birth to a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome. Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the most common causes of mental retardation. A baby born with this syndrome may also have:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Emotional and behavioral problems
  • Heart defects
  • Face deformation
  • Organ defects
  • Low birth weight
  • Stillbirth
  • Small skull
  • Small brain
  • Poor coordination
  • Shorter than average height
  • Poor memory
  • Hyperactivity
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • A combination of some or all of the above

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

Drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy is not safe and is considered alcohol abuse. According to the Center for Disease Control, "Women should not drink alcohol if they are planning to become pregnant, or are sexually active and do not use effective birth control." If you are drinking alcohol and become pregnant, stop immediately. Studies have shown that even one drink during the first trimester of pregnancy can cause problems with the baby. Drinking alcohol anytime, even later in your pregnancy, is also bad for the baby. Nobody knows exactly why some babies are affected adversely when the mom only drinks one drink, but it is a danger that women need to pay attention to. The time to stop drinking alcohol is before you get pregnant.

Alcohol Abuse and First Trimester of Pregnancy: How To Get Help

If you are drinking alcohol and are pregnant you need to stop. If you are having trouble stopping, there are places you can call for help.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator

National Institute On Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

If you know a woman who is drinking alcohol while pregnancy and you have asked them to stop, consider what you can do to help them quit by checking Al-Anon.


Alcohol abuse and the first trimester of pregnancy are a risky combination. Give your baby the best possible start in life and stop drinking as soon as you think you will get pregnant.

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Risks of Alcohol Abuse in the First Trimester of Pregnancy