Alcohol during pregnancy: Is it a wise choice?
‘Drinking is injurious to health’ – all of us are familiar with this health advisory. The ill-effects of alcohol are evident among people of all age groups. There is no good time for heavy drinking. However, there is a most definitively a bad time – pregnancy. Alcohol during pregnancy poses harm to not only the expectant mother but also the unborn child.
In this article, Dr Aruna Kalra, a top obstetrician and gynaecologists at the CK Birla Hospital, talks about the effects of using alcohol during pregnancy and how much alcohol is ok during pregnancy.
What are the effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy?
Alcohol consumption during early pregnancy can pass on to the placenta and to the unborn baby through your blood. Your unborn child cannot process any quantity of alcohol due to the limited development of body organs. When the alcohol enters the fetal bloodstream, it can interrupt the baby’s growth leading to several complications.
The common side-effects of alcohol during pregnancy include:
- Loss of pregnancy
- Preterm delivery
- Childbirth and labour risks
- Disrupted brain development
- Difficulty with attention
- Restricted growth of the baby
- Speech and language problems
- Low birth weight
- Higher chances of illness during infancy
- Low intellectual growth
Binge drinking (heavy alcohol consumption) during pregnancy has life-threatening consequences. It can also lead to a higher incidence of Fetal alcohol syndrome, a chronic condition in children whose mothers have excessive amounts of alcohol during their pregnancy.
What is fetal alcohol syndrome?
Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most prevalent reaction to alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It is a health condition that causes brain damage and other growth problems. Every child with this condition is affected differently. Fetal alcohol syndrome leads to physical deformities, restrictions to brain development and behavioural issues. The side-effects of alcohol during pregnancy translate adversely in the form of fetal alcohol syndrome.
Some of the common symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome are:
- A decline in growth as compared to other children
- Difficulty in hearing or seeing clearly
- Poor coordination
- Memory issues
- Heart defects
- Small head and other facial distinctions
- Learning and communication disorders
- Poor social behaviour
How much alcohol is safe during pregnancy?
If you are wondering how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy, the brief answer to this question is – no. Researchers have not been able to identify exactly how much alcohol is safe for mothers-to-be. Medical experts recommend that a pregnant woman should completely avoid the intake of alcoholic drinks.
If you are wondering what harm a small glass of wine could do, then you may want to rethink. No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. You should avoid having that occasional drink.
Alcohol is extremely unsafe, especially during the first trimester. Your baby undergoes tremendous development in the first 3 months. Your chances of a miscarriage and premature birth increase significantly if you drink at this time.
After 3 months of pregnancy, the likelihood of birth defects in your baby rises upon alcohol intake. There is no good time to drink if you are planning to conceive, well into pregnancy or even breastfeeding.
How can quit drinking alcohol?
When you know the aftermath a drink can do, you would definitely want to quit. The question is ‘how can I quit?’.
The safety of your unborn child is reason enough to avoid alcohol. You may not be in the need of motivation at this sensitive time. However, since pregnancy is a major life-event, your family and friends may want to celebrate this milestone. It can be somewhat difficult to avoid alcohol during social events such as parties.
Here are some tips to help you avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy:
- Go for a non-alcoholic drink: You must have a favourite among non-alcoholic drinks. To avoid the craving for alcohol, you can experiment with other beverages.
- Take one sip at a time: When you have to attend social events that involve drinking, try to grab a glass of your favourite non-alcoholic beverage and drink it slowly. Don’t gulp down the entire glass in one go. Enjoy your drink for an extended time to avoid craving for alcohol. This way you would have something to hold and sip at all times.
- Ask for support: Your partner and family members would be willing to support you during pregnancy. You should ask them to avoid drinking as well when you are around. You would not feel strange and lonely with their support.
- Relax new self-care ways: Some women have a drink to relax at the end of a stressful day. When you are pregnant, you can try new self-care techniques to feel calm when you are in the need of alcohol. You can have a hot water bath, explore new music, go for a walk, do art and craft and other activities to help you ease.
If you have difficulty quitting alcohol, you can always ask your OB-GYN or primary healthcare provider to support you.
Things to remember while avoiding alcohol during pregnancy
- Avoiding alcohol in pregnancy would not be a difficult task. Most women are motivated to keep their unborn baby safe and healthy. This thinking allows them to easily shift their drinking habits.
- Sometimes, expecting mothers also feel an aversion to most alcoholic drinks. The first trimester is one with multiple body changes. Your recurrent episodes of morning sickness are likely to make you more sensitive towards odd smells and tastes. This aversion prompts a mom-to-be to avoid alcohol that may cause nausea and vomiting.
What if I had alcohol before finding out about my pregnancy?
For some women, pregnancy arrives packed as a surprise gift. It is possible that you may be oblivious to pregnancy and have had a few drinks.
If you are a light-drinker and consumed only a few drinks, you should not be panic. Light drinking at the most initial stage of pregnancy may not cause major complications. You should discuss this situation with your healthcare provider and avoid drinking again during pregnancy.
However, you must consult your OB-GYN immediately in case you have consumed a large amount of alcohol. Your doctor can perform a variety of screening tests and preventive measure to maintaining the safety of your pregnancy.
The concluding note
Every day is a dry day during pregnancy and rightly so. Alcohol during pregnancy can have adverse effects on the mother and the child. Considering that precaution is better than cure, you must avoid completely restrict alcohol consumption during this period. Try to steer away from your doubts about how much alcohol is ok during pregnancy? Because no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.
Book an appointment with Dr Aruna Kalra, best obstetrician at the CK Birla Hospital to learn more about safe and healthy pregnancy.
Ques: How early in pregnancy does alcohol affect the baby?
Ans: Alcohol can affect the baby right from early pregnancy i.e. during the 1st trimester.
Ques: How much alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy?
Ans: No amount of alcohol is considered safe during pregnancy.
Ques: How can drinking alcohol during pregnancy affect my baby?
Ans: Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can hinder fetal development, damage brain and spinal cord cells, cause heart defects and other abnormalities in the baby.
Ques: Which complications affect mothers from drinking alcohol during pregnancy?
Ans: Mothers can experience a loss of the pregnancy, preterm delivery and childbirth and labour complications.