Alcohol & Pregnancy: Is it safe?
April 5, 2015
It’s safe to say more women have an occasional drink than those that don’t. According to the National Health Institute, 60% of U.S. women have at least one drink a year.1 As an expecting mother you may find yourself wondering if it is okay to indulge in an occasional alcoholic beverage.
How much is too much?
A sip of champagne to toast or a small glass of red wine may be just what you are craving. But is it safe? The advice you may find could be confusing. Most of the population is divided on whether or not it is okay to have a drink while pregnant. And if so, how much is too much? Some say that you need to completely avoid alcohol altogether, while some say a glass of red wine once a week is unlikely to harm your growing baby and may actually be good for you.
Researchers have verified for decades that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause many birth defects. 2 However, the effects of light alcohol consumption on a developing fetus are not well known, which may contribute to a trend of women drinking while pregnant. A recent study by the Center for Disease Control determined that one in eight expecting mothers in the United States report having at least one alcoholic beverage within the last month. 2
Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York says it best: “The problem with drinking alcohol during your pregnancy is that there is no amount that has been proven to be safe.” To compound the matter more, every person has different levels of the enzymes that break down alcohol in their body. So each individual’s body can tolerate and process a different amount of alcohol. If a woman has low levels of this enzyme then she is more susceptible to harming her baby.
Drinking During Pregnancy
There is not enough research on which points during your pregnancy it is safer to have a drink than others.2 Research has proven that alcohol impacts brain cells and can affect a developing baby’s brain, and a baby’s brain is constantly developing during pregnancy. So at any point there is a risk that there could be brain damage to the baby.
Studies show that pregnant women who drink during their pregnancy have a risk of giving birth to a baby with a fetal alcohol spectrum (FAS) disorder. This condition can be mild to severe, and FAS babies can display any of the following: speech and language delays, learning disabilities, abnormal facial features, small head size, and many other problems.
Experts also say that mothers with higher risk factors such as a history of liver disease, history of addiction, or that are on any types of medications that may conflict with alcohol, such as antidepressants, should definitely avoid alcohol while pregnant.3
Drinking and Breastfeeding
This issue continues even after delivery. Generally speaking, breastfeeding and alcohol don’t particularly mix. When breastfeeding, everything a mother consumes is passed through your milk to your baby, including alcohol
There is no safe level of alcohol in breast milk that is considered safe for babies to drink. A newborn processes alcohol in half the rate of an adult, which means it takes the baby twice as long to get this alcohol out of its system.3 If you do choose to drink while nursing, your body can process this out fairly quickly, around two to three hours for 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or one and half ounces of liquor (depending on body weight). If you do plan on indulging, plan carefully so you can process the alcohol before your babies next feeing and have a formula that works for your baby on hand. This can eliminate any risk of harming the baby.
Seek Professional Advice for Your Optimal Nutrition
With all the possible negative side effects in play, women have to evaluate if the risk to drink during and after pregnancy is worth it. The best course of action is to consult with your doctor and decide if a small drink is worth the risk to you. While pregnant and breastfeeding, it is important to make sure your body stays in the best health possible. This means consuming only the best foods and taking a pregnancy vitamin to supplement your daily nutritional needs. Always consult with your doctor to review your particular situation, risk factors and discuss the best nutrition plan for your pregnancy and postpartum breastfeeding.