Alcohol During Pregnancy -How To Avoid & Its Effects

The adverse effects of alcohol on foetal development are well known and it is advisable that pregnant women stay away from it. It is important to understand how alcohol interacts with the body of a pregnant woman and her child, so its use can be restricted or avoided totally during pregnancy. Learn all you need to know about alcohol consumption, its effects and how to refrain from it throughout your pregnancy.

Is It Safe To Drink Alcohol In Pregnancy?

Alcohol could be called a legal drug which is also classified as a teratogen. A teratogen is a substance that is known to be harmful to human development, therefore if you’re asking, “Can I drink any alcohol while pregnant?”; No, it is not safe to drink any alcohol when you’re pregnant. Conception is quite often a surprise, and it may be several weeks to a month or two before women realise they’re pregnant and would have had several drinks during this period. If you’ve unknowingly had alcohol during first week of pregnancy, there’s no need to worry as it probably won’t harm the baby. However, drinking alcohol in the first month of pregnancy and continual drinking throughout the pregnancy puts the baby at the greatest risk, particularly during the first trimester.

How Much Alcohol Consumption for Pregnant Women is Too Much?

The problem with drinking during pregnancy is that there is no established lower limit to the amount of alcohol consumption which has been proven to be safe. Although a recent study on 5,628 women published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynaecology by Dr.Fergus McCarthy and his associates from England, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia has shown that small amounts of alcohol in early pregnancy may not put the mother and baby at risk as much as previously thought. The participants in the study ranged from having three to seven drinks per week to more than seven drinks per week with “a drink” being defined as a glass of wine or less than 355ml of beer. Therefore occasional alcohol during pregnancy in the form of a drink may be okay, but since the amount that can cause harm is unknown, it’s best for pregnant women to abstain from alcohol.

What Effects Alcohol Can Have On Mother and Baby

So what happens if you drink alcohol while pregnant? Women have a lowered first pass metabolism of alcohol which makes more of it enter their blood stream and pass through the placenta and into the baby. The effects on women include:

  • Precipitation of preterm labour
  • Decreased production of breast milk
  • Risk of spontaneous abortion of foetus goes up 4 fold in the first trimester

Alcohol remains in the body of the foetus for longer as they do not process it the way as adults do. The alcohol in the foetus’s system prevents enough nutrients and oxygen from getting to the developing vital organs and causes Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders or FASDs. An umbrella term for a range of disorders, FASD includes foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol related birth-defects, neurodevelopment disorders and neurobehavioral disorders. Some of the most common characteristics of FASDs in children are:

  • Abnormal facial features
  • Small head size and shorter than average height
  • Hyperactive behaviour and poor coordination
  • Learning disabilities, speech and language delays
  • Lowered IQ and poor judgment and reasoning skills

If one still wonders if drinking alcohol will affect pregnancy after the first trimester? Yes, it does. There is no safe time during pregnancy to drink alcohol even as they approach the end of the third trimester as the baby’s brain develops throughout the pregnancy. While drinking in the first trimester gives rise to abnormal facial features, drinking through the rest of the pregnancy gives rise to growth and central nervous system problems.

A new study conducted by Kelly Huffman, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside shows that the effects of FASDs can be transgenerational. The experiments conducted on laboratory mice showed that the exposed offspring displayed atypical gene expression and abnormal development which was carried over to the next generation of non-exposed off-springs. Therefore, not only is the unborn child of the drinking mother at risk but the future generations of the offspring can be affected by the prenatal ethanol exposure (PrEE).

Can I Drink Non-Alcoholic Beer and Wine When Pregnant?

The term non-alcoholic can be misleading in drinks such as wine and beer. These drinks do contain small amounts of alcohol that are typically half-a-percent or so while the regular alcoholic drinks contain more than 5- 8% alcohol. When consumed in higher volumes, the smaller percentages in these drinks can accumulate and hence any form of heavy drinking of even a non-alcoholic drink should be avoided if you intend to totally abstain from alcohol. Drinks labelled alcohol-free are relatively safer and do not contain any alcohol.

How Can I Avoid Drinking During Pregnancy?

Women who drink habitually must stop drinking if they plan to get pregnant or realise that they are pregnant. The habit may take time to get rid of and can be done with some strategy and determination. Here are a few tips to do just that:

  • Make a plan on how you can reduce drinking incrementally and set limits
  • Set a budget on alcohol spending
  • Get support from family and friends by letting them know of your decision
  • Make each drink smaller every time you go drinking
  • Slash down on the strength of drink and have beer or wine with lesser alcohol in them
  • Plan on have having several drink-free days every week

What Can I Drink Instead Of Alcohol In Pregnancy

Just because you have cut down completely on alcohol doesn’t mean you’ll have to miss out on your favourite drinks. Most of the cocktails that you enjoy can still be made non-alcoholic as a mocktail. If you’re in a party and everybody around you is having champagne, you can drink apple or grapefruit juice in a champagne glass to blend in. Then there are always healthy non-carbonated soft drinks and milkshakes that you can have.

I Am Unable To Stop Drinking Alcohol, What Can I Do?

Inability to stop consuming alcohol is a sign of dependence towards the substance. It is characterised by craving alcohol regularly, needing alcohol to cope with life in general and drinking in isolation. When you are pregnant, this is a dangerous condition and must be addressed immediately. Discussing it with your health care provider and subsequent rehabilitation must be sought at the earliest.

Also Read: Drinking Wine While Pregnant