How Alcohol Affects Your Pregnancy

Both women and men should abstain from alcohol prior to conception to ensure a healthier pregnancy. The official recommendation in the United States starting with the surgeon general and continuing with medical organizations is that you should not have any alcohol during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or at risk for pregnancy are advised to not drink any alcohol.

Increased pregnancy risks when men drink prior to conception

A 2019 study shows increased risks to the pregnancy when the man was drinking alcohol during the 6 months prior to conception. Drinking alcohol three months before pregnancy or during the first trimester was associated with a 44% raised risk of congenital heart disease for fathers and 16% for mothers, compared to not drinking. Binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks per sitting, was related to a 52% higher likelihood of these birth defects for men and 16% for women.

UK recommendations for alcohol and pregnancy

In the UK however, recommendations are different: The current UK Department of Health guidelines recommend that women who are trying to become pregnant or are at any stage of pregnancy should not drink more than 1 or 2 units of alcohol once or twice a week and should avoid episodes of intoxication.

Wine contains large amounts of alcohol which can lead to fetal malformations and a severe condition called "fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)". Experts feel that there is no amount of alcohol during pregnancy that is completely safe for you to have, which makes avoiding alcohol altogether the best option for when you're expecting. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy, especially in large amounts, can be harmful to your baby and heavy drinking can cause birth defects and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). The more you drink, the greater the risks are, but what about a glass of wine or champagne here or there? When some of my friends were pregnant, they were divided on this issue. A few were really nervous when they got pregnant and immediately stopped drinking alcohol, but others would have a beer every once in a while during their first trimester

The reason why so many women have trouble deciding if light drinking is permissible during pregnancy is that it’s different for every woman. Because of this, doctors don’t have a safe amount they can recommend because some women have higher levels of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. If a pregnant woman has low levels of this enzyme, her baby may be more susceptible to harm because the alcohol may circulate in her body for a longer period of time.

The CDC, the U.S. Surgeon General, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all advise against drinking while pregnant. If you’re worried about the effects of even a little bit of alcohol on your baby, then it’s probably best that you refrain from alcohol for the whole duration of your pregnancy. If you’ve made up your mind that a few drinks won’t hurt here and there, then it’s your choice to make. Since there is still a lot unknown in terms of the effects of light drinking during pregnancy, some women are indecisive about drinking wine or a beer once in a while.

In England, the NHS website says that: "The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink, the greater the risk." 

Some pregnant women chose to drink occasionally during their pregnancy, and their children were perfectly healthy, but every case is individual. There are truly no amounts of alcohol that can be considered safe during pregnancy

Alcohol is the #1 drug responsible for fetal malformations. Here is what the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC) say about Alcohol Use During Pregnancy:

"Because no safe threshold of alcohol use during pregnancy has been established, CDC and NTFFAS/FAE recommend that the following women should NOT drink alcohol:

  1. Women who are pregnant
  2. Women planning a pregnancy
  3. Women at risk for pregnancy

Women of childbearing age who are not pregnant or planning to get pregnant should drink no more than seven drinks per week and no more than three drinks on any one occasion."

With this recommendation in mind, there are now enough studies that show that small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy are unlikely to bring harm to the fetus.

The authors of this study said: "This systematic review found no convincing evidence of adverse effects of prenatal alcohol exposure at low-moderate levels of exposure. However, weaknesses in the evidence preclude the conclusion that drinking at these levels during pregnancy is safe."

What is a small amount? Probably 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week are considered to not increase fetal risks.

But when in doubt, and because alcohol is not an essential part of your daily nutrition, you are still safest to stay away from alcohol. 

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