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Does Alcohol Affect Early Pregnancy?

An adult beverage every now and then isn't likely to hurt you, but it could hurt your growing baby. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, drinking at any point of the pregnancy can lead to birth defects. Exposing the baby to alcohol early can increase the odds she'll develop mental retardation, have behavioral problems or growth abnormalities. It also increases the risk of a miscarriage.

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When to Stop

It's commonly accepted in society that pregnant women shouldn't drink. That's why you may draw some odd looks if you're showing and you have a drink in your hand. In fact, a pregnant woman shouldn't be drinking even if she isn't showing. Ideally, she should give up alcohol as soon as she plans on getting pregnant according to the United States Centers for Disease Control.

Facial Features

Maternal alcohol use during the first trimester can turn up on the baby's face. Some babies are born with small eye openings, an upturned nose, underdeveloped ears and a thin upper lip. While no one suggests a few sips of alcohol alone will cause it, such problems are connected to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The American Pregnancy Association notes that 40,000 babies a year are born with this disorder. Research on prenatal alcohol exposure in 992 infants born from 1978 to 2005 showed the risk to pass on FASD was highest during the second part of the first trimester. The study was published in the journal "Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research."

Birth Weight

The "Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research" included a report from University of California San Diego at La Jolla researcher Haruna Sawada Feldman, PhD. It found drinking during the early stages of pregnancy results in a 16 percent higher risk for having a low birth weight baby.

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Binge Drinking and Behavior

Newly pregnant women who down at least five alcoholic drinks at a time once a week may also plant the seeds for the child's behavior. According to a study of pregnant mothers in Oslo published in 2011 in the journal "Early Human Development," binge drinking during the first trimester raises the likelihood of babies having difficult temperaments or sleeping issues. After looking at other factors, such as maternal smoking or work-related stress, the researchers found binge drinking was a better predictor of fussy behavior and problems sleeping during infancy.

Image via Christopher Robbins/Photodisc/Getty Images

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