When you’re pregnant it can seem like you’re offered a lot of information.
The different magazines, websites and books tell you should, and should not do, for the next nine months. Understandably it can be hard to know where to go for trustworthy advice. This is especially true when it comes to advice about drinking alcohol when you’re pregnant.
Read on to get clear advice about alcohol and pregnancy.
Drinking alcohol at any stage during pregnancy can cause harm to your baby and the more you drink, the greater the risk. This is why the low risk drinking guidelines advise pregnant women that the safest approach is to not drink alcohol at all during pregnancy.
If you’re pregnant or think you may become pregnant, you’re also advised not to drink. But please be aware if you’re already pregnant and drank only small amounts of alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy, the risk of harm to the baby is low. However if you are worried, you should talk to your GP or midwife.
The Department of Health recommends that women who think they may become pregnant should not drink alcohol at all, this is to keep risks to the baby to a minimum.
NICE advice on miscarriage
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is the independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on promoting good health and preventing and treating ill health.
NICE additionally advises that the risks of miscarriage in the first three months of pregnancy mean that it is particularly important for women not to drink alcohol at all during that period.(1) However, it is important to understand that drinking alcohol carries risk throughout the whole pregnancy, not only for the first three months.
When you drink, the alcohol crosses from your bloodstream through the placenta directly into your baby’s blood. How a baby will be affected depends on how much its mother drinks and the mother's metabolism.
Evidence suggests that diet is also important, with poor maternal nutrition increasing the risk of harm to the unborn baby.
The potential harms of alcohol to a developing baby can also depend on the point during pregnancy at which it is consumed. However, alcohol can have a harmful effect on your baby's development at any stage. It is therefore important to stick to the guidance throughout your pregnancy and avoid alcohol all together.
Drinking alcohol while you’re pregnant could affect your baby’s health
The more you drink the greater the risk you are taking with your baby’s health.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) affects the way a baby’s brain develops and how serious the condition is depends on how much alcohol a mother drank during pregnancy.
Miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, small birth weight, and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) are all associated with a mother’s drinking .
Official guidance advises that if you’re trying to have a baby, you should stop drinking. This is to protect the baby in case you’re pregnant and don’t realise it. If you are worried about how much you have been drinking in the early stages of pregnancy, you should talk to your GP or midwife.
However, alcohol doesn’t cause problems only once you are pregnant. There is evidence that alcohol can affect fertility in both men and women.(3)(4) It’s another reason why, if you’re trying to have a baby, both you and your partner might want to cut back on drinking.
Drinking over the guideline amounts also puts you at higher risk of miscarriage during the first trimester. A large study found a more than three times increased risk of miscarriage in women drinking just five or more units per week.(5)
Staying in control
Here are three ways to keep your drinking under control if you’re pregnant or trying to have a baby.
- Stand firm. 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, and simply stick to soft drinks.
- Make the switch. If you’re trying to conceive you are advised to stop drinking immediately. Alcohol-free alternatives ‘Mocktails’ can be a refreshing way to replace alcohol.
- Get support. Ask your partner to help you by cutting down their drinking as well. If you are trying to conceive this is vital, as drinking alcohol can affect sperm count and heavy drinking can cause temporary impotence. Our Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app can help you stay motivated to cut back.
Your GP can help you figure out if you should make any changes to your drinking, and offer help and advice along the way. Or talk to your midwife about alcohol and pregnancy.
If you’re concerned about someone’s drinking, or your own, Drinkline runs a free, confidential helpline. Call 0300 123 1110.
For more information and advice on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), go to the National Organisation on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK’s website www.nofas-uk.org or call their helpline on 020 8458 5951.