Alcohol and Your Preconception Health

by Eleanor Snell

North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign Cape Fear Regional Coordinator…wow, that’s a mouth full and my new job title! After ten years I have returned to work for March of Dimes for which I formally served as a Community Director in Wilmington.

During my hiatus from this wonderful organization, I worked for seven years as an Education and Training Specialist for the North Carolina Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission. I traveled throughout eastern North Carolina educating those who sell and serve alcohol to the public, including ABC stores, restaurants, bars, and convenience stores about state alcohol laws. I worked with employees on military bases who sell and serve alcohol, and provided alcohol education programs to parents, civic groups and students from elementary to college age.

One of the most frequent questions I received was “Is it against the law to sell alcohol to a pregnant woman?” In North Carolina the answer is NO. There is no law that states that alcohol may not be sold to a pregnant woman. North Carolina General Statue 18-B states that alcohol may not be sold to anyone under the age of 21 and anyone who appears to be intoxicated.

If she is purchasing alcohol in a bar or restaurant, can the seller or server refuse to sell or serve her? No, not unless she is under 21 or shows visible signs of intoxication. So, what’s to stop alcohol from being sold to an expectant mother? In reality, nothing. But we can educate them.

In North Carolina, nearly 50% of all pregnancies are “unintended” or not planned. We can inform women of childbearing age that they are the only ones who can prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a term that describes the range of alcohol effects on a child, by not drinking if they are thinking of becoming pregnant or are pregnant.

It is important that any woman of childbearing age be informed about alcohol and its effects. A woman who drinks alcohol while pregnant passes it to the fetus through her blood. As a result, it can affect the baby’s cell development and growth; in addition, the brain and spinal cord can become damaged. Problems may range from mild to severe and can cause the child to have mental and physical problems that can last a lifetime.

So what do you do if you discover you are pregnant and have consumed alcohol? Talk openly with your doctor; the earlier you tell your doctor the better. They will know to look for related problems during your pregnancy and he or she can watch your baby’s health both before and after birth.

Something to keep in mind: there is no treatment that can reverse the impact of alcohol on your baby’s health. Think before you drink: your baby’s health and future depends on it.

Eleanor Snell
NC Preconception Regional Coordinator
Cape Fear Region

Revised: August 26, 2015

This web site is designed for informational use only; it is not designed to give advice, diagnose, cure or treat any medical condition you may have. If you have any questions about your health, please contact your health care provider.