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Is Drinking Alcohol Before Getting Pregnant Harmful?

Plans to start or expand a family might prompt you to reconsider your diet and change your lifestyle before becoming pregnant. The American Pregnancy Association advises women to think of pregnancy as a "year-long journey" and recommends that they avoid potentially harmful substances—including alcohol—during pregnancy and for at least three months prior to conception.

Nutritional Concerns

A sufficient intake of folate—or folic acid—prior to conception and during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of fetal birth defects, such as spina bifida. Folate is a B vitamin that is essential for healthy cell division and is found in foods such as green leafy vegetables. The U.S. Public Health Service advises women of childbearing age to ensure a daily intake of 0.4 milligrams of folate. Alcohol hinders the body's ability to absorb and utilize folate in cells and tissues, and drinking alcohol prior to conception could increase the risk of folate deficiency. Folate deficiency immediately prior to conception might restrict the nutritional benefits offered by folate toward healthy early development of the embryo.

Weight Gain

Alcohol is calorie-dense: One ounce of alcohol contains approximately 168 calories. Alcoholic drinks provide "empty calories," as they contain little or no nutritional benefit. Alcohol is also an appetite stimulate. Therefore, drinking alcohol during the preconception period might cause you to gain excess weight. Women of childbearing age who are overweight or obese place themselves at greater risk of ovulation problems and prolonged infertility. In addition, if you are overweight during the preconception period, your subsequent weight gain during pregnancy could exceed recommended levels. Excess weight gain during pregnancy places you at greater risk of developing problems such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

RELATED: Does Alcohol Effect Early Pregnancy?

Alcohol-Related Infertility

Drinking alcohol can disrupt your menstrual cycle, which makes ovulation more unpredictable and lessens your chances of becoming pregnant. "In fact," says nutritionist Marilyn Glenville, "alcohol can reduce your fertility by half—and the more you drink, the less likely you are to conceive." The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or NIAAA warns that binge drinking and alcoholism can cause ovulation to cease and might even induce early menopause. The institute explains that moderate or even small amounts of alcohol such as those enjoyed by social drinkers can also cause women to become temporarily infertile.

Accidental Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

"There is no known safe amount of alcohol that you can consume if you are pregnant," the According to the American Pregnancy Association asserts. Predicting or diagnosing an exact date or time of conception can prove challenging, and you could experience a time gap between conception and finding out that you are pregnant. Therefore removing alcoholic drinks from your diet during the preconception period gives you the best possible chance of avoiding accidental fetal exposure to alcohol.

RELATED: Pregnant? Put Down the Wine

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