If you’re pregnant there’s no doubt about one thing – you’ll be bombarded with health advice. A major factor to consider is how alcohol will affect you and your developing baby.
If you continue to drink heavily when you are pregnant you put your baby at risk of developing foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Whereas previously the occasional drink (one or two units once or twice a week) was considered OK for a pregnant woman, Government advice now states that pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether.
The same advice is aimed at women trying to conceive – ditch the booze.
But other health guidelines say it’s fine to drink small amounts after the third month of pregnancy. Confused? It’s not surprising.
So why the change in advice? For about 10 years, expectant mothers were advised to drink in moderation. Before that the received wisdom was that pregnant women could drink about eight units a week, and midwives even urged their charges to drink stout because it's high in iron. But in 2007 ministers changed their advice on drinking during pregnancy after research found that almost one in 10 expectant mothers drink more than the recommended limit.
And because many women do not realise they are pregnant straight away, the advice to avoid alcohol was extended to women trying to conceive.
In March 2008 the health watchdog the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) published guidance advising women not to drink at all during the first three months of pregnancy, adding that a small amount of alcohol one or two days a week after the first trimester was safe. “There is uncertainty about how much alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy, but at this low level there is no evidence of any harm to [the] unborn baby” the guidance says.
In short, scientists are not sure about the precise impact of small amounts of alcohol on unborn babies.
Various studies have found that women are drinking more generally, and as a result this will lead to rising levels of drinking during pregnancy.
When you drink, the alcohol crosses from your bloodstream through the placenta into your baby’s blood.
If you drink heavily when you are pregnant you could be putting the development of your baby at risk. In the first three months of pregnancy, heavy drinking can damage the developing organs and nervous system of the foetus.
If you continue to drink heavily when you are pregnant you put your baby at risk of developing foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The condition is a life long one, and children can have a range of symptoms, including low birth weight, facial abnormalities and learning and behavioural difficulties.
The severity of the condition depends how much alcohol was consumed during pregnancy.
Alcohol and Pregnancy – Some Tips
- Make sure you are clear on what a unit of alcohol is. One to two units of alcohol, the weekly limit that NICE recommends pregnant women in their second and third trimesters stick to, is equivalent to half a pint of ordinary strength lager or a small glass of wine.
- And watch out for units in pubs and restaurants, which often serve strong lagers and large glasses of wine which translate into more units.
- Give your taste buds a treat. Experiment with making your own delicious non-alcoholic cocktails. Try blending fruit juices together, or add flavoured syrups to sparkling water.
- Stick to your guns. If you’re out with friends or colleagues, you may be under pressure to drink, especially if you haven’t announced your pregnancy yet. Tell them you’re driving, on a health kick, or simply smile sweetly and stick to soft drinks.
- 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.
- Ask your partner to help you by cutting down drinking as well. If you are trying to conceive this is vital, as drinking impairs sperm count and heavy drinking can cause temporary impotence.
- Try and change your routine. If you usually spend evenings in the pub or sipping wine over dinner, take up a new hobby or class. Try pregnancy yoga classes as a fun way to meet other expectant mums, for example.
- If you didn’t know you were pregnant and you have been drinking more than the recommended amount of units, don’t panic. Talk to your GP or midwife about any concerns you may have – they’re there to help.
*Information & Statistics sourced from Drinkaware.co.uk (Opens in a new window or downloads a file).