Alcohol exposure during pregnancy linked with dose-dependent increase in miscarriage risk

Women who consume alcohol during pregnancy -; even in small amounts -; have a 19% greater risk of miscarriage than women who don’t use alcohol, according to a new study by Vanderbilt researchers.

Published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the study also found that for alcohol exposure of less than five drinks per week, each additional drink per week during pregnancy was associated with a 6% increase in miscarriage risk.

Since alcohol is one of the most common exposures in early pregnancy, it’s critical to understand how consumption relates to miscarriage. Adverse pregnancy outcomes, like fetal alcohol syndrome, are often associated in popular culture with heavy consumption. However, our meta-analysis indicates even a modest amount of alcohol use has a meaningful impact on miscarriage risk.”

Alex Sundermann, MD/PhD student, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and the study’s lead investigator

It is thought that alcohol use increases miscarriage risk by increasing oxidative stress for the fetus, causing cellular damage. Sundermann became interested in the link between alcohol exposure and miscarriage after a prior study from her lab, led by Katherine Hartmann, MD, PhD, found that more than half of women use alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy prior to having a positive pregnancy test, regardless of whether the pregnancy was planned.

Sundermann’s most recent work involved a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies published between 1970 and 2019 about alcohol exposure and miscarriage. Twenty-four studies met the criteria for inclusion in the review, representing data from more than 231,000 pregnant women.

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