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Pregnancy and Alcohol

Why should I not drink when I am pregnant?

Advice from the Department of Health states that … “pregnant women or women trying to conceive should not drink alcohol at all. If they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, they should not drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk.”

The reason for this is because alcohol can cause damage to a developing baby. Alcohol gets to a baby through the placenta if a pregnant woman drinks alcohol. A baby cannot process alcohol very well. So, any alcohol in your baby stays in their body much longer than in you. This is known to be a risk for causing serious problems. For example, studies have shown that:

  • Pregnant women who drink more than 15 units a week have an increased risk of having a baby with a low birth weight.
  • Pregnant women who drink more than 20 units a week have an increased risk of having a baby with some damage to the brain causing impaired intellect.
  • Pregnant women who drink very heavily risk having a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome. Babies with this syndrome have brain damage, a low birth weight and facial malformations.

However, there has been debate over the years as to whether small amounts of alcohol are safe to drink during pregnancy. Also, if there is a time of pregnancy when alcohol is most likely to cause harm. But, recent research supports the advice of not drinking any alcohol whilst pregnant.

For example, a study by Feldman et all (cited below) looked at the relationship between drinking alcohol during pregnancy and it causing facial defects in the baby. This study showed that the more alcohol a woman drank, the more likely there was to be a facial defect in the baby. BUT, there was no safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy, as there was still some risk with small amounts of alcohol. The study also found that drinking alcohol has risks throughout pregnancy, but it may be most likely to cause facial defects during weeks 6-12 of pregnancy. The authors of the study concluded that … “Women should continue to be advised to abstain from alcohol consumption from conception throughout pregnancy.”

What if I am dependent on alcohol before I become pregnant?

For the sake of your baby’s health you should be open and honest about the amount you drink. If you are planning a pregnancy, go to see your doctor before you become pregnant so that professional help can be arranged. Once you are pregnant, many different people may offer you support, including doctors, midwives, social workers and counsellors. This can become confusing but, if you regularly keep in touch with one healthcare professional (usually your midwife or GP), they should be able to make sure that you are not bombarded with too many unnecessary appointments.

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