Can I Drink Alcohol During Pregnancy?
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Can I drink alcohol during pregnancy?
There is no definitive answer to this question because there is no conclusive evidence that shows the quantity of alcohol that is safe for you to drink while pregnant. However, binge drinking or heavy drinking is certainly dangerous for your baby.
Many specialists advise to remove alcohol intake completely throughout the whole pregnancy. They also advise that this is especially important in the first 3 months while the baby is forming. Women are strongly advised not to drink alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy because there may be an increased risk of miscarriage.
As with all decisions during pregnancy it is your choice if you decide to drink. If you do decide to drink it is best to limit your intake to 1 or 2 units of alcohol once or twice a week and not to get drunk as advised by the Department of Health.
How can alcohol affect my baby? - Risks during pregnancy.
Any alcohol consumed during pregnancy passes through to your baby through the placenta via your blood stream. A baby's liver doesn't mature until the second half of pregnancy. Therefore, your baby cannot process alcohol as well as you. Alcohol can affect the development of the baby and this is the case throughout the whole of the pregnancy, not just the start.
There are several factors that can influence how much your unborn baby may be harmed by alcohol. It depends on:
- The quantity of alcohol you drink.
- Which stage of pregnancy you're in when you drink.
- The frequency of consumption.
There is little concrete evidence to show that drinking a maximum of one or two units once or twice a week will have any adverse effect on your baby.
The quantity of alcohol
Drinking any more than one to two units once or twice a week means you could be putting your baby's health at serious risk from a variety of problems. Note: It is not known at which exact level of alcohol consumption that this problem increases; although the general rule of thumb the more you drink the more of a risk you are taking.
Excessive/heavy/binge drinking during pregnancy can lead to:
- Premature birth.
- Low weight at birth.
- An increase in likelihood of the baby being stillborn.
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
How a baby will be affected depends on how much its mother drinks and at what point in her pregnancy she drinks. For example, damage to the organs through heavy drinking is most likely to happen in the first three months. Again, the advice is to avoid getting drunk and drink no more than one or two units once or twice a week. The strength and size of a drink determines how many units it has. Always check the label to make sure you do not exceed the recommended amount.
What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?Symptoms of FASD include:
- Learning difficulties.
- Problems with emotional development and behaviour.
- Memory and attention deficits.
- Difficulty in organizing and planning.
- Problems with language.
- Facial deformities.
- Being small at birth and throughout life.
- Poor muscle tone.
As a result of their difficulties with learning, judgment, planning and memory, people with FASD may experience additional problems. These include psychiatric problems, a disrupted education, trouble with the law, alcohol and drug problems, and inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Children with FASD can have one or several of these symptoms. Children who display all of the symptoms are defined as having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is rare. FASD is more common. It's thought that more than 6,000 babies are born each year with FASD in the UK.Reference: www.drinkaware.co.uk for the facts.
How much is a unit of alcohol?
In the UK one unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. You can see how many units of alcohol are in a bottle by reading the labels. Labels on a drink show its percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV).Examples of one unit of alcohol:
- One 25ml single measure of whisky (ABV 40%).
- A third of a pint of beer (ABV 5-6%).
- Half a standard (175ml) glass of red wine (ABV 12%).
Drinking in moderation should not have any adverse health effects. For men, three to four units per day is considered a safe amount. For women, the recommended amount is no more than two to three units per day although this differs during pregnancy. 1-2 units once or twice a week is the recommended level for a pregnant woman.Things to remember about units:
- Alcoholic content in the same types of drinks can vary a lot.
- Many wine bars and pubs serve large glasses of wine as standard - note: this can contain 3 units of alcohol depending on the strength of the wine.
- Most people when drinking at home tend to be generous with their measures.
Alcohol and conception - I drunk before I knew I conceived!
Firstly, don't panic! You are not alone. Thousands of women have a few drinks before realising they are pregnant. If you are at all concerned talk to your doctor or midwife.
The department of health recommend you give up drinking before becoming pregnant. If you are trying to conceive, try cutting down your units gradually. Start off by reducing your drinking each day, and then try having a few alcohol free days a week.
The most important thing is how you act once you know you are expecting. Cutting alcohol out completely or being very careful about how much you drink and knowing the risks associated of you do decide to drink at all will all help you keep your baby safe.
What can I drink instead of alcohol?
In the early part of your pregnancy you may be suffering from morning sickness, afternoon sickness or any kind of nausea. This might make stopping drinking very easy. However, if you do not get this symptom and are used to using alcohol to unwind at the end of day you may find giving up more of a struggle.
You could swap your usual tipple with other stress-relieving options, such as:
- A warm bath
There are plenty of options on the market that can act as substitutes to your favourite alcoholic drinks:
- Non-alcoholic beers/wines.
- Tasty non-alcoholic cocktails which contain all the flavour with no alcohol.
I'm finding it difficult to give up drinking alcohol during my pregnancy. What can I do?
If you are having difficulties giving up drinking alcohol during your pregnancy, or you think you may have a problem with alcohol and it is affecting your life or that of your unborn child, then talk to an expert.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. It shows just how much you care about your unborn child and it can be life changing for you and your baby.Useful contacts:
- Doctor or midwife. It is their job to help and advise you through your pregnancy not to judge you.
- Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. You can call this free helpline in complete confidence 24 hours a day. Call 0800 917 8282.
- Alcoholics Anonymous www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk is a free self-help group. Its '12-step' programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.
- Addaction (www.addaction.org.uk) is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities to manage the effects of drug and alcohol misuse.
Alcohol and breastfeeding
So you have decided that breast is best for your child, but you are unsure of what the guidelines are around drinking while breast feeding.
During feeding, alcohol is passed to the baby in small amounts in breast milk. Levels of alcohol in breast milk remain close to those in the mother's bloodstream. Levels will be at their highest between 30 and 60 minutes after drinking, or 90 minutes if you've been drinking with a meal. It takes two-to-three hours for a unit of alcohol (a small glass of wine, or half a pint of ordinary-strength beer) to leave a nursing mum's milk.
If affected by alcohol, milk will smell different to the baby and may affect their feeding, sleeping or digestion. Avoid drinking alcohol shortly before feeding your baby.
While large amounts of alcohol in breast milk can have a sedative effect, it's more likely to make your baby agitated and disrupt sleep patterns. Alcohol inhibits a mother's let-down (the release of milk to the nipple). Studies have shown that babies take around 20% less milk if there's alcohol present, so they'll need to feed more often - although infants have been known to go on 'nursing strike', probably because of the altered taste of the milk.
Whether you're breastfeeding or not, the recommended daily benchmark for women is between two and three units of alcohol a day. The benchmark applies whether you drink every day, once or twice a week, or occasionally.