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Is it safe to drink during pregnancy?

 When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby (Photo: Courtesy)

Thousands of pregnant women continue to take alcohol while pregnant despite unwavering advice to the contrary.

This begs the question, is it safe for pregnant women to drink alcohol during pregnancy?

Let's start with scientific facts. It is not safe to drink any amount of alcohol during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant.

There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer.

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby. The effects of alcohol in pregnancy are completely preventable by simply not drinking, so why take the risk?

When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta to the baby. The developing baby's liver remains immature and unable to break down alcohol in the same way as an adult.

Thus continued alcohol exposure will seriously affect your baby's development. Damaging effects of alcohol are most harmful in the first three months of pregnancy, when it is linked with miscarriages and birth defects.

It doesn't get any safer as pregnancy advances. There is ongoing risk of premature birth, low birth weight and even stillbirth (when a baby dies before birth).

A whole range of lifelong physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities may also result. The combination of the many problems that can occur to the baby are aptly described as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). You don't want your baby to have any of these.

But surely there must be a safe limit? If you must drink, some authorities advice you stick to only one or two units of alcohol once or twice in a week. This equates to a small glass of wine, or half a pint of beer, or a single measure of spirits and whiskies. 

These limits are all based on observations that seem to suggest small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy have not been shown to be harmful. But we all know about the temptation to take just one little bit more. And that's where the trouble begins.

The safest option for you is to avoid alcoholic drinks altogether for the whole of the pregnancy. It may not be as difficult as you might think - many women cannot stand the taste of alcohol in pregnancy anyway.

Should you experience difficulties in cutting down on your drinking during pregnancy, remember that you can always seek help. Talk to your midwife or obstetrician. It's never too late to stop. The sooner you stop drinking in pregnancy, the better it will be for your own health and your unborn baby's health.

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