Friends making a toast at party in which one of them drank before I knew I was pregnant“I went out partying with my friends last weekend and drank a lot. Then today, my pregnancy test turned up positive! Since I drank before I found out I was pregnant, I’m freaked out! Could I have hurt my baby?”
Having a couple of drinks before you knew you were pregnant isn’t ideal, but it’s pretty common. If you weren’t trying to get pregnant, it comes as a surprise when you realize that your period was late. Now you’re looking at a positive pregnancy test and freaking out about the night out with your girlfriends that you enjoyed.
It’s understandable that you’re worried and need to know what damage drinking can do during the very early weeks of pregnancy. But first, take a deep breath and let go of any guilt or shame you feel about the past. You’re in a judgment-free zone here. Next, keep reading to learn what the side effects can be — and more importantly, what to do to ensure good health for you and your baby moving into the future.

Unplanned Pregnancy

According to the CDC, half of all pregnancies in the U.S. were unplanned. Also, nearly half of the women in the U.S. drink alcohol, so that means you’re not alone. Many women have been in your shoes and drank before knowing they were pregnant.
Even though it may be hard for you to stop worrying, it’s best not to stress. The simple and obvious solution is to stop drinking once you know you’re pregnant.

Communicate With Your Doctor

Make sure to tell a medical professional, like your doctor, that you drank before you knew you were pregnant. You won’t be the first patient with this story. You probably won’t even be the first one that day!
If you feel uncomfortable talking with your doctor about things that may affect your pregnancy, find a new one. Being able to speak openly about your health and your baby’s health during pregnancy is essential to having a happy, healthy, nine months.

What Research Tells Us

A 2014 study in the U.K. looked at 1,303 pregnant women and their alcohol use before pregnancy and during each trimester. Results showed that drinking in the first trimester (even fewer than two drinks per week) increased the risk of complications, like preterm birth and lower birth weight.
And this research from 2012 found that even light drinking in the early weeks could increase miscarriage risk. However, the risk goes up with heavier drinking.
Looking at all the information available, we can say that very light drinking in very early pregnancy doesn’t often cause issues, but it could. Adding to the confusion, different people define “light” differently.

Possible Side Effects of Drinking During Early Pregnancy

Miscarriage and fetal alcohol syndrome disorders are the two biggest issues connected with drinking early in pregnancy. It isn’t easy to talk about, but miscarriages are very common. Even if you do everything you should, the highest risk of miscarriage is in the first trimester. Miscarriages often happen due to issues outside your control (such as chromosomal abnormalities).
Multiple reliable sources and studies (like the one we noted above) say that alcohol use in the first trimester can increase the risk of miscarriage. Another big risk is Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Symptoms of FASDs include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Preterm birth
  • Neurological problems
  • Behavioral problems later in childhood
  • Abnormal facial features (small eyes, thin upper lip, missing vertical crease between the nose and lips)
  • Cognitive difficulties

I Drank Before I Found Out I Was Pregnant – What Can I Do?

A baby develops in-utero over a 40-week period, and there are many contributing factors. While drinking at any trimester of pregnancy should be avoided, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say harm from having a little alcohol before you knew you were pregnant is unlikely.
So if you drank before you realized you were pregnant, the crucial thing is that you stop now. Your baby’s brain has a lot of developing to do.
A few good things you can do to promote your baby’s health include making to take your prenatal vitamin daily, eating healthy, avoiding raw or high-mercury fish and undercooked meats, and going to every prenatal appointment. Chances are good that your baby will be fine!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October 4, 2015, and has since been updated.