Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy

Alcohol is in many ways a part of our lifestyle, and drinking sensibly is something everyone can enjoy without any major health repercussions. While this is generally the case, there are times when the consumption of alcohol should be treated with particular caution and care, and a classic example of such a time is pregnancy. This article discusses alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the facts surrounding the issue of when and how much it’s healthy to drink while pregnant.

What does alcohol do to the body?

Alcoholic beverages contain different quantities of a chemical called ethanol (alcohol) which is responsible for the intoxicating effects of alcohol and its negative physical consequences. Where caffeine is a stimulant, increasing your heart rate and metabolic rate, alcohol is a member of an opposite class of substances: depressants. Alcohol depresses your nervous system, which means that your reaction times are diminished, as is your judgement.

Alcohol can, in excess, have very dangerous effects on your body. The most prominent example is undoubtedly liver damage, which in its final stages is called cirrhosis, where much of the liver’s healthy tissue is replaced by scarring. Long term alcoholism can also cause obesity and increase your chances of developing any one of a number of different cancers.

Alcohol and pregnancy

During your pregnancy your blood and that of your unborn baby is shared by means of a structure called the placenta. This means that your blood is responsible for carrying much needed nutrition to a the foetus, and for carrying away unwanted waste materials that your child can’t, at this stage, dispose of on its own. A consequence of this bond is that if you ingest any harmful chemicals like alcohol, your child will be exposed to it, which is true of other habits like smoking.

So what happens when you drink alcohol whilst pregnant? Over time your unborn baby will become accustomed to the presence of alcohol, meaning that he or she can develop any one or more of a number of symptoms of a condition called foetal alcohol syndrome. These symptoms include growth deficiencies which can result in a lower than usual weight at birth, development issues with the central nervous system which can manifest as learning difficulties and restlessness, abnormalities in musculature, organs, or facial features.

As you can see the consequences of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can be very severe and far reaching, and as such doctors and other health authorities take the issue of alcohol intake during pregnancy very seriously.

How much alcohol can I drink when pregnant?

As far as the NHS and government are concerned it is better to err on the side of caution, and as such these authorities recommend that you avoid any alcohol during your pregnancy. In fact, for your health, fertility, and the prospective health of your child to be it is actually recommended that you stop drinking alcoholic beverages while trying to conceive.

This is suggested because the first period of a pregnancy (a time of about three months referred to as the first trimester) is the most sensitive to chemicals and anything else which can increase the risk of miscarriage or damage to the health of an embryo. Even during the later stages of a pregnancy alcohol can inhibit the healthy development and growth of an unborn child’s brain and body.

While it is the mother’s body which would directly share alcohol with a foetus, responsibility also lies with male partners to control their own drinking habits in support of their partner. Drinking on your part can badly affect your partners own behaviours.

Tips for stopping your alcohol intake

If you are planning to get pregnant or are already pregnant and are looking to stop drinking there is plenty of support available from different sources available to you, particularly if you have or have had a drinking problem like alcoholism. This can make staying away from drink during your pregnancy more difficult, which is why reaching out to the support available to you can be an important way of ensuring your own long term health and that of your unborn child.

If you are in the habit of having a few drinks to unwind and relax then the best advice is to replace alcohol with something else you find equally relaxing. This varies immensely from person to person, but general examples include bubble baths and chocolate!

As far as alcohol is concerned abstinence is the best way to ensure that you experience a healthy pregnancy according to the NHS and official government sources.

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