Becoming a parent means lifestyle changes. You’re going to be spending more time at home and spending way too much time talking about your kids, and you’ll be saying goodbye to that whole sleep thing that you used to enjoy so much. Pregnancy itself brings changes of its own—cravings, body changes, morning sickness, and cutting down on or eliminating certain questionable things from your lifestyle that made you happy, such as smoking, drugs, and alcohol.
Okay, so in all likelihood, alcohol was instrumental in meeting your partner and in the eventual conception of your baby, but the idea of drinking while pregnant is, well, a little frightening. You’ve probably heard about all kinds of health risks on the news and been advised by all of your friends and family—you’re probably thinking that if you have an occasional glass of wine with dinner during your pregnancy, your baby will be born with three heads and a hoof. But is drinking in pregnancy really that bad if you do it in moderation?
What Are the Health Risks of Drinking While Pregnant?
The basic problem is that, when a pregnant woman drinks, she shares the alcohol with her unborn baby, and while her body is big enough to handle the effects, the baby’s body is not. The website for the March of Dimes lists a number of health risks related to drinking alcohol during pregnancy. It explains that unborn babies whose mothers drink alcohol could have birth defects in the heart or brain, learning disabilities, hearing problems, low birth weight, premature birth, speech delays, and behavioral problems.
While alcohol increases the risk of these problems, it is important to note that drinking alcohol does not guarantee these problems—some women give birth to perfectly healthy babies after drinking during pregnancy. Of course some people survive plane crashes, too—you just never know. In any case, the March of Dimes website points out that it is unlikely that a few drinks before you know you are pregnant will have a severe effect on an unborn baby, but they advise that you should stop drinking the minute you know you’re pregnant.
How Much Alcohol is it Safe to Drink During Pregnancy?
So, what happens when you tell an expectant mother who’s been drinking her whole adult life that now that she’s pregnant, she’s not allowed to have alcohol anymore? Well, after she punches you, she will go into depression or denial, or take drastic action. This is part of the reason why most of the experts that people actually listen to will not come out and say that you can’t drink at all during pregnancy without endangering your baby.
Actually finding the safe amount that you can drink during pregnancy can be very tricky. As Scientific American points out, you can’t really study the effects of various amounts of alcohol on pregnant women because you can’t ethically tell a group of women to go drink 12 glasses of wine a week so we can see what kind of effect it has on their babies. Still, there are studies, although they conflict.
One study quoted in Scientific American suggests that having one to four glasses of alcohol per week during pregnancy will have no effect at all on general intelligence or other higher order brain functions for unborn babies. A different study indicates that teenagers whose mothers had more than one drink a week while carrying them were more likely to have behavior problems.
The bottom line? Keep the alcohol to a minimum that you can do without panicking, preferably around one drink a week.
What Else Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?
There are other things besides alcohol that pregnant women should avoid in the interest of keeping their babies healthy. Obviously, illegal drugs should be out of the picture as soon as the pregnancy begins. Smoking while pregnant is also a very bad idea.
The website for Parents Magazine advises that mothers-to-be should also avoid soft cheeses and fish that might contain mercury. It also advises that pregnant women should limit the amount of caffeine and red meat that they take in. As with the alcohol, avoiding these substances altogether might be healthier for an unborn baby, but telling someone that they can’t have them for nearly ten months might cause a really unpleasant and even dangerous reaction.
On the other hand, Parents recommends that pregnant women should try to increase the amount they eat of certain foods. They particularly recommend adding foods to your diet that contain Omega 3 oils, choline, calcium, and fiber.
When you’re pregnant, you’re going to sacrifice a lot for your baby. You’ll change your lifestyle, start making room in your home and your life for a child, and start to shed the habits that might endanger the baby’s health. Drinking alcohol is definitely one of those habits, and while you might be able to have a rare drink during pregnancy without a serious increase in health risks, drinking regularly, even in moderation, is definitely not a good idea.