Study Explores Drinking in Pregnancy, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Pregnant woman holding glass of wineAbout 8-9% of women worldwide drink alcohol during pregnancy, according to research that explored drinking and its effects on developing fetuses. The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, is the first to explore rates of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and drinking during pregnancy.

Worldwide Drinking, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Trends

The research relies on studies of drinking during pregnancy published between 1984 and 2014, as well as research on fetal alcohol syndrome published between 1973 and 2015. Researchers compiled a wide range of scholarly reports and peer-reviewed studies. They omitted any studies with data sets not generalizable to the population, as well as those that used data combined from several studies. For countries that had only one study, the team used various statistical models to estimate overall prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol use during pregnancy.

Overall, nearly 10% of women used alcohol during their pregnancies. The rate of fetal alcohol syndrome was about 15 per 10,000. The study estimates 1 in 67 women who drink during pregnancy will have a child with fetal alcohol syndrome, suggesting about 119,000 children will be born with FAS each year.

About Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome produces a range of physical, cognitive, and psychological effects. Some children experience only minor symptoms. In others, symptoms can be debilitating. Symptoms may include poor growth, an unusually small brain or head, developmental delays, behavioral problems such as aggression or impulsiveness, seizures, organ problems, and birth defects.

Researchers do not yet know why some children exposed to alcohol in utero develop FAS and others do not. It is unclear whether a certain quantity of alcohol, alcohol exposure at a specific time during development, genetic vulnerability, or other risk factors play a role. Because of this uncertainty, the American Academy of Pediatrics says there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Some analysts disagree with this proscription, saying it is unrealistic or that it overstates the danger of moderate alcohol consumption. In her book Expecting Better, Emily Oster reviews studies on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Oster concludes that moderate alcohol consumption—up to a glass of wine per day—is safe during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, but she also points to the importance of people doing their own research and using it to make their own choices.


  1. AAP says no amount of alcohol should be considered safe during pregnancy. (2015, October 19). Retrieved from
  2. Oster, E. (2013, September 11). I wrote that it’s OK to drink while pregnant. Everyone freaked out. Here’s why I’m right. Retrieved from
  3. Popova, S., Lange, S., Probst, C., Gmel, G., & Rehm, J. (2017). Estimation of national, regional, and global prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy and fetal alcohol syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Global Health. doi:10.1016/s2214-109x(17)30021-9
  4. The global toll of fetal alcohol syndrome. (2017, January 13). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Brittany

    January 18th, 2017 at 12:33 PM

    Any alcohol consumption is dangerous for the baby. . I just found out that I’m pregnant with baby#2, thanks to conceiveeasy. We are hoping to have a baby boy this time..

  • Iris

    January 19th, 2017 at 11:19 AM

    I thought that I just read that a glass of wine a day wouldn’t be harmful to baby?

  • isabelle

    January 20th, 2017 at 1:28 PM

    No matter how much I would have liked to have a drink every now and then when I was pregnant, I knew that this would potentially harm my child and so I didn’t do it. This is what adults do.

    You make choices that might not suit you but that you know are overall going to help your children. Why would I ever want to do anything that could even possibly cause future harm to my kids? How selfish am I to make a choice like this?

  • Calvin

    January 23rd, 2017 at 2:24 PM

    So what I don’t understand are the people who say that they had no idea that they were pregnant and they do everything known to man while pregnant but didn’t know it and still have these children who wind up being alright. There is absolutely nothing that is wrong with them even though the mothers did nothing as far as positive pre natal care while they were carrying them.
    How is it that one family can do everything seemingly right and then bad things happen and then someone else does all of the no nos and their children are ok?
    There has to be something more than just dumb luck doesn’t there?

  • Daphne

    January 24th, 2017 at 4:18 PM

    Am I naive or are those numbers pretty startling?

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