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Avoiding alcohol during pregnancy

You may have heard mixed messages about whether it’s OK to drink some alcohol while pregnant. We know that alcohol can harm an unborn baby, and we know that heavy drinking or binge drinking can be especially risky [1]. But we don’t know a safe level of alcohol consumption [2]. So if you’re pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, the safest approach is to not drink at all. 

Whatever stage you’re at, your baby will benefit from you starting to avoid alcohol now. 

What’s the harm? 

When a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol ends up in the unborn baby’s blood. The developing liver can’t filter out toxins that can harm brain cells and damage the nervous system [3], and can cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is true throughout the pregnancy, so there is no safe time to drink alcohol during that nine months. On the other hand, quitting at any point can be helpful. 

Some people may need to reduce their alcohol intake gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms. A good first step is to talk to your doctor or midwife who can direct you to further support after learning about your specific needs. You can also search for local services through the NHS.

Managing stress without alcohol

Having a baby is one of the biggest changes you and your partner can go through, so you might find yourself feeling more stressed and arguing more. Avoiding alcohol can be difficult if you’re used to using it as a way of coping with stress. But the negative effects on your mood and general health, and the worry about how it might affect your baby, could end up causing even more stress. 

We can’t make stress go away entirely, but we can learn to cope in healthier ways. You could try:

  • Exercise, like going for a walk, yoga, or another favourite activity.
  • Cooking a nutritious meal.
  • Chatting with a friend or family member.

Having a supportive partner can be a big help too. It will likely be easier for you to avoid alcohol if your partner chooses to stop drinking as well [4] [5]. You could share the goal of avoiding alcohol together during your pregnancy, and encourage each other along the way. 

If you’re worried that you or your partner might be using alcohol to deal with stress, you can find a free short course on Click’s Coping with stress and alcohol section.  

Three simple steps 

Practicing communication skills can strengthen your relationship and get you through times of stress, from everyday issues to bringing a new baby into the family. Our Me, You and Baby Too resource can help you and your partner manage this period of change together. You will learn how to argue better, which is better for you, better for your partner, and better for your baby.

There are three simple steps to arguing better:

STOP. This means staying calm and listening. You can’t always control the way you feel, especially when an argument starts. But you can have some control over how you respond. When you feel a conversation heating up, you can try some of these tips to help yourself say calm:

  • Take some deep breaths.
  • Relax your shoulders.
  • Count to 10.
  • Go for a walk with your partner.

TALK IT OUT. To talk through what’s going on, we can:

  • See it differently. Try to see things from your partner’s point of view.
  • Speak for myself. Use ‘I’ statements to talk about how you are feeling.

WORK IT OUT. Once you are able to stay calm and talk about your issues, you will be able to look for solutions you can both agree on.

For more information 

If you would like support to quit alcohol, your doctor or midwife can help and you can search for local services through the NHS.

If you’d like to know more the effects of alcohol on unborn babies, see the National Organisation for FASD.  

References


[1] Jones, Theodore B.; Bailey, Beth A.; Sokol, Robert J. Alcohol Use in Pregnancy: Insights in Screening and Intervention for the Clinician. Clinical Obstetrics and Gyneconolgy, 2013. 

[2] May, Philip A.; Gossage, J. Phillip. Maternal Risk Factors for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Alcohol Research and Health, 2011. 

[3] National Organisation for FASD. Information for parents, carers and professionals, 2012.

[4] Montag, Annika C. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: identifying at-risk mothers.International Journal of Women’s Health, 2016.

[5] Chang, Grace; Mcnamara, Tay K.; Orav, E. John; Wilkins-Haug, Louise. Alcohol Use by Pregnant Women: Partners, Knowledge, and Other Predictors. Journal Of Studies On Alcohol, 2006.

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