Alcohol in pregnancy

For many of us, the thought of going without alcohol for nine months is daunting. After all, drinking is such a social activity and wine is such a lovely accompaniment to a good meal…

I certainly found that avoiding alcohol was one of the most challenging aspects of being pregnant. I certainly loved my cocktails with the girls, bubbly for any occasion, beer on a hot summer’s day, and a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc with seafood – before pregnancy, that is. I chose not to drink at all during pregnancy, and while this was difficult, it is what is currently recommended by the experts (that is, there is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy).

Alcohol passes straight into your unborn baby’s bloodstream and is toxic to her brain and other cells. Babies born to mothers who drink at high levels during pregnancy suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is characterised by facial abnormalities, growth retardation in utero, and a range of effects on the brain including small brains, mental retardation, learning disabilities, seizures and ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Given that alcohol can readily induce these effects in a baby, and that nobody can guarantee that even small amounts of alcohol are not harmful, I found it easier on my conscience to abstain completely – and this is what I recommend to my pregnant and preconception patients.

When you are stone cold sober and others around you are imbibing in alcohol, you get to make some interesting observations – such as how silly you might have looked at times when you were inebriated, or how you may have relied on alcohol as a relaxant after work or on weekends. It makes you more self-sufficient – you have to find other ways to relieve stress and have a good time.

Do try not to fall into the trap of having calorie-laden soft drinks as an alcohol substitute. I certainly went through a lot of ginger beer and lemonade initially because I just wanted to nurse a drink in my hand! This can predispose you to excessive weight gain and gestational diabetes. Try half strength fruit juices or just plain water instead. I did love sparkling mineral water but this could deplete your calcium stores and gives you a whacking dose of sodium, so it’s to be enjoyed in small quantities.

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