Alcohol and Pregnancy – What You Need to Know

A safe and healthy pregnancy gives babies the best possible start in life, but there are many things that can derail parents on the path to achieving this goal, particularly as it can require fairly significant lifestyle changes. Whether you’ve just started trying for a baby or you’re already some way along on the journey, there are a few guidelines that should be considered non-negotiable, particularly when it comes to alcohol consumption.

Understanding how alcohol affects unborn babies

The evidence for the impact alcohol has on unborn babies is damning. In fact, medical professionals have reached a consensus that there is no risk-free way to consume alcohol during pregnancy, and the risks can be severe, ranging from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and premature birth to miscarriage and stillbirth. Still, some parents-to-be don’t fully understand the risks or act to avoid them. 

The symptoms of FASD can be severe and life-changing, often affecting physical health as well as cognitive capacity, emotional regulation and social skills. Facial abnormalities, learning disabilities, vision or hearing problems and problems with the heart, bones or kidney are all well-documented symptoms of the condition, causing long-term challenges for children affected. 

Alcohol isn’t the only harmful substance that can affect unborn children. Consumption of cigarettes during pregnancy can also be detrimental to the developing foetus, increasing the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, respiratory problems, and long-term health complications.

How to stop drinking alcohol during pregnancy

While you may understand the importance of an alcohol-free pregnancy, putting the advice into practice can be more challenging than first thought, particularly if you enjoy alcohol as part of your regular routine or social life. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to make the process easier:

  • Build a support network. Even if you’re yet to conceive, tell your close friends and your partner about your plans and ask for their support as you adjust to an alcohol-free lifestyle. Once they know of your plans, those closest to you will be more able to accommodate your needs – by organising non-alcoholic drinks for parties, for example. Suppose you’re in the process of trying to conceive. In that case, your partner’s relationship with alcohol is also an important consideration, particularly as the effect of alcohol on sperm is not well documented. 
  • Rehearse a few failsafe responses. If you’re not used to turning down alcoholic beverages, you might face some social pressure to drink, particularly before your friends find out you’re pregnant. In case you’re not ready for others to know, you might prefer to tell people that you’re the designated driver or that you’re on a health kick. 
  • Clear out your cellars. It’s not unusual for people who drink socially or over dinner to keep alcohol at their homes. If you think you might be tempted to drink during pregnancy, it would be wise to consider temporarily removing alcohol from around the house. You might have a friend who can help by storing away your alcohol at their house until you’re ready to take it back, post-pregnancy. 

Managing alcohol consumption post-pregnancy

Post-birth, the guidelines on alcohol consumption relax to an extent, but mothers should still take a few key precautions to protect their babies from the impacts of alcohol consumption. For example, if you are breastfeeding, you should be aware that alcohol generally moves from your blood into your breastmilk within an hour, and takes about two hours to leave your system completely. If you plan on drinking, work it around your feeding times to avoid any unwanted impacts on your baby.

No matter where you’re at on your pregnancy journey, it’s important that you understand the dangers of alcohol consumption and the benefits of abstaining from drinking – not just for your baby, but also for you. If you’re currently pregnant or planning to conceive and you have concerns about giving up alcohol, your doctor, midwife or obstetrician will be able to provide advice and support. 

Above all else, remember that your actions now will have a long-lasting impact on the quality of life you’re able to provide for your child, and short-term sacrifices will have long-term benefits in the future.