Alcohol During Pregnancy: Is Alcohol Safe During Pregnancy?

Written by - Reviewed by Consumer Health Digest Team

Published: Aug 18, 2014 | Last Updated: Feb 7, 2019

Alcohol During Pregnancy

Nobody can tell for sure how much and is little amount of alcohol during pregnancy safe. That is why the safe bet is to cut alcohol. Even after the baby is born, mothers should avoid alcohol, as it is excreted into the breast milk. Almost every pregnancy diet and plan for preparing recommends women to quit alcohol. Effects are greater in women who smoke, have poor diet or consume drinks with lots of caffeine.

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

To define how much is too much. We need first to understand how much one unit of alcohol is. One unit is 10ml pure alcohol (ethanol). That translates into:

  • 300 ml of ordinary strength beer
  • 150 ml of strong beer or lager
  • One small glass wine (125 ml)
  • 40 ml of any spirit

All those can be defined as one unit of alcohol. Physicians say that drinking lightly; one to two units per week can be tolerable. Heavy drinking is six or more units per day.

The Risks of Alcohol

Drinking alcohol is not harmful only for the mother, but for the baby as well. Alcohol reaches baby through the placenta. Alcohol is a toxin, and toxins are harmful in their essence. Drinking too much alcohol during pregnancy can damage the development of baby’s cells, affecting organs, brain grow and face. Another problem with drinking is that can damage the nervous system of the baby, causing it to have difficulties with learning, problems with movement and coordination. All these problems can be defined with just one term fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Several disorders qualify into the spectrum. A more specific disorder caused by mothers drinking alcohol during pregnancy is full blown fetal alcohol syndrome or FAS.

Drinking during pregnancy can also lead to premature birth and miscarriage, and increase the risk of the baby being stillborn.

How Alcohol Does Affect The Baby?

Some factors should be taken into account including how much alcohol mothers had, during which month/week they drank alcohol, and how often did they drink. Mothers usually think that the first trimester is the most dangerous time. That is a myth since the baby is vulnerable until it is born. During the third trimester the baby is growing more and the brain is developing, and alcohol may harm those processes.

What Happens if Mothers Drank Before They Knew their Pregnancy?

This is a common situation, since most women don’t find out they are pregnant until 4-5th week of pregnancy. There are no studies or researches done on this topic, and nobody can say how few drinks before pregnancy can affect the baby. This is why physicians suggest mothers to give up drinking when trying to conceive, as alcohol likewise affects fertility. However, once mothers know for sure they are pregnant, it is time to put the glass off.

How to Avoid Alcohol?

Sometimes, people just like the idea of drinking, and have troubles letting go alcohol even though they have just few drinks during the week. Pregnant mothers need to come up with a plan, a concept how to avoid alcohol and stop drinking until the baby is born (even then as it affects breastfeeding). Once they set up the goal, writing down ideas how to help yourself is the next step.

  • Relieve yourself from temptations. Remove everything that can be linked to drinking, especially alcohol from both home and the office.
  • Tell friends, the partner, family members and colleagues that you intend to stop drinking, and ask for their support.
  • Avoid bad influence. Try not to spend much time with people who drink regularly, as the question “com’on, drink just one” can always come up.

What to Drink Instead of Alcohol?

For some women, alcohol is a relief from stress, and for people who need to get rid of alcohol, they miss the ritual of drinking. If this is the situation, mothers can switch to non-alcoholic beer or wine during the time they avoid alcohol. There are other nonalcoholic drinks mothers can try at a party without harming the baby. And there are always other options to relief stress. Some of those include taking a long shower, listening favorite music, watching television, reading a book or getting a massage. Some exercise is always a good option, as it promotes healthy life. Mothers can try pilates, yoga or some other light type exercise. During pregnancy, women can also find some interesting hobby that will eat their free time and take the mind out of everything else (painting and gardening are nice choices). And the most important part is to talk with the partner. He needs to be supportive, so if he tends to have a drink or two, mothers should ask him to stop for some time as well.

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