Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is still a grey area – specialists are still unsure as to how much alcohol is a safe amount to drink during pregnancy.
Many experts will recommend that you cut out all alcohol for at least the first three months of your pregnancy, but to be safe, most doctors will recommend that you cut alcohol out for the entirety of your pregnancy.
If you do decide to drink alcohol during your pregnancy, it is advised that you take in only 1 or 2 units of alcohol once or twice a week. Binge drinking, or getting drunk, is absolutely not advised.
Binge drinking or heavy drinking is when you consume 5 or more units of alcohol per drinking session. One unit of alcohol is counted as 10ml of pure ethanol, and you can find more information on the alcohol packaging that will tell you exactly how many units are in the alcohol that you’re drinking.
Keep in mind that if you are drinking at home, you are likely to pour yourself a much more generous measure than you’d get if you were drinking out of the house – so you may need to measure your drinks more accurately to work out exactly how many units you’re taking in.
How alcohol can affect your baby
Alcohol is a problem during pregnancy if you drink too much of it because of the pure and simple reason that it is a toxin. Everything that you take in during pregnancy, your baby takes in too. Alcohol reaches your baby via the placenta, meaning that if you take in lots of alcohol, your baby takes in that alcohol – and it directly affects your baby’s developing cells.
If you drink an excessive amount of alcohol during pregnancy – as mentioned, no-one is quite sure what the safe limit is, but if you regularly binge drink or drink more than 5 units of alcohol in one sitting, your baby is at risk of something called foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or full blown foetal alcohol syndrome.
This is the medical term for the deformities that alcohol can cause. Because it affects your baby’s developing cells, it can cause facial deformities, damage to the internal organs and problems with how your baby grows. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders can also cause learning difficulties and disabilities, as the alcohol affects your child’s nervous system. This can affect your child’s co-ordination and movement for the rest of their life. Full blown foetal alcohol syndrome can mean that your child will be born permanently disabled and disfigured.
Aside from the above problems, heavy drinking during pregnancy can also cause miscarriage and is associated with premature births. You are also more at risk of stillbirth if you drink heavily throughout your pregnancy.
It is advised that you also cut out alcohol when trying for a baby, as obviously you can conceive at any time. However, this isn’t going to be possible for all women, simply because they may not be trying for a baby or their contraception may not be working.
Therefore, you could accidentally drink heavily in the early stages of pregnancy. We don’t yet know how much this will affect your baby, but many, many women find out that they are pregnant after drinking and have perfectly healthy babies. The most important thing to remember is that when you find out that you are pregnant, you either cut down on your drinking or cut it out altogether.
If you use alcohol to unwind, it could be difficult to reduce your intake. Some women will go off alcohol as soon as they get pregnant, especially if they have problems with morning sickness. However, not all women will feel the same – therefore, you might need to find other things you can do to unwind to replace alcohol. Try taking a long bubble bath, reading a book, or doing some gentle exercises instead. You could also try drinking something else to replace the alcohol – try sparkling grape juice or other non-alcohol party drinks instead.
To help you cut back on the alcohol, it might be a good idea to speak to your partner to see if they will be willing to cut back on alcohol with you. It could make it easier for you to reduce your intake or give up altogether if you know that someone else is willing to give up alcohol with you. Also, you could avoid situations where you know there will be lots of binge drinking – i.e. house parties or pubs, as this reduces any pressure that people could put on you to get drunk. If you go to parties or pubs, you could also drink your favourite mixers instead of alcohol to get the same flavour.
If you are ever worried about your alcohol intake during your pregnancy, speak to your doctor