Alcohol use during pregnancy

Alcohol use during pregnancy
Pregnant women are advised not to drink alcohol.


Alcohol can harm the pregnancy and the baby’s development. That’s why it is recommended that pregnant women not drink alcohol. Here are a few frequently asked questions about alcohol and pregnancy.

Can I drink a little alcohol while pregnant?

There are many contradictory claims about drinking during pregnancy. Some feel that pregnant women should not drink any alcohol. Others believe that drinking in moderation is acceptable.

Scientific studies have not established whether there’s a safe limit for alcohol consumption during pregnancy, nor whether that limit varies between women. Furthermore, there is no evidence that occasionally drinking small amounts of alcohol is safe for the baby.

All the same, these important facts are worth keeping in mind.

  • The placenta does not filter out alcohol. Any alcohol consumed is transferred directly from the mother’s bloodstream to the baby’s.
  • The more alcohol consumed, the greater the potential harm to the mother and fetus.
  • The effects of alcohol on the fetus are the same whether you drink wine, beer, or hard liquor.

The only way to be completely safe is to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.

What effects does alcohol have on the fetus?

Alcohol use during pregnancy can interfere with the fetus’s development and alter the course of the pregnancy, resulting in permanent harm to the baby.

  • Alcohol consumption increases the risk of miscarriage, preterm labour, and stillbirth.
  • Alcohol that enters the baby’s bloodstream through the placenta can harm the development of various organs. Alcohol use during pregnancy is also associated with deformities in the baby, particularly of the heart, kidneys, eyes, and ears.
  • Brain development is particularly susceptible to alcohol. Alcohol can have long-term effects on a child’s cognitive abilities (such as their memory), along with their language, motor, and social skills. Some children may develop attention problems or hyperactivity. Learning and behavioural disorders are also possible.
  • If alcohol is consumed in large amounts, it can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes severe brain development issues.

Remember that alcohol is not the only factor that can affect the development of the fetus. The parents’ health, their medical history, their lifestyle, the mother’s diet and tobacco use, and the environment all have an impact.

I drank alcohol before I knew that I was pregnant. Should I be worried?

It all depends on how far along you were and how much you consumed.

  • If the mother had the occasional drink (once or twice a week) during the first few weeks of pregnancy, there is little risk to the baby.
  • However, regular alcohol consumption or several drinks on the same occasion is more risky.

According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, low levels of alcohol consumption in early pregnancy is not an indication for termination of pregnancy.

If you have any questions, feel free to talk to your health care provider. For resources on alcohol use during pregnancy, consult the document published by Éduc’alcool.

Changing your drinking habits can be difficult, but it’s never too late to stop drinking. By cutting back—or, better still, giving up alcohol altogether—you can ensure the healthiest environment for fetal development.

Can my partner and I drink alcohol while we’re trying to get pregnant?

Alcohol poses a risk from the very first weeks of pregnancy. Since it is difficult to determine exactly when conception occurs, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommends that you abstain from alcohol from the moment you decide to have a baby.

Less is known about the effects of alcohol consumption in fathers before conception, but we do know it can reduce fertility.

Can I eat food that has alcohol in it?

You can eat a dish that contains alcohol if it’s been cooked, because the alcohol evaporates during cooking. However, if alcohol is added after cooking, it’s better to pass on it. You should also avoid dishes cooked with spirits.

I drink to relax. Isn’t that better for my baby than being stressed out?

While alcohol may seem like a good way to relieve stress, it’s still dangerous during pregnancy. If you need to unwind, try doing something else, like walking, reading, or meditating. Here are a few other suggestions:

  • Exercise
  • Lie down and listen to some music
  • Watch a TV show that you like
  • Take a bath
  • Treat yourself to a hot chocolate
  • Take a nap

If you still have trouble managing stress, talk to your prenatal care provider.

Drinking during times of crisis
The COVID-19 epidemic has drawn attention to the stress that some expectant mothers may experience during times of crisis. In such circumstances, it can be difficult to resist the urge to drink. It’s helpful to remember that abstaining from alcohol is a simple thing you can do to ensure your baby develops properly. Obviously, managing your stress is still important, but it’s possible to do it without alcohol. For more information, read COVID-19: Managing your stress level while you are pregnant.

What are some tips on how to avoid alcohol?

If you’ve decided to stop drinking alcohol during your pregnancy, your family and friends may be able to help you stay on the wagon.

  • Tell your loved ones that you’ve decided to avoid alcohol for the baby’s sake.
  • Tell them you’ll need their help and that it’s very important to you. Ask them not to insist that you have “just one drink.”
  • Ask your partner to change their own drinking habits as a show of solidarity.

When you go out, go to places that don’t serve alcohol. For instance, head to a coffee shop instead of a bar. For social evenings with family or friends, bring your own non-alcoholic beverage (juice cocktail, nonalcoholic beer, flavoured sparkling water, etc.). Kombucha, however, should be avoided because it is unpasteurized and may contain alcohol. If you enjoy kefir, make sure it is pasteurized.

Mocktail recipes

1. Virgin piña colada
40 ml (1.35 oz.) orange juice
40 ml (1.35 oz.) pineapple juice
10 ml (0.34 oz.) coconut milk
Pour ingredients into a blender half-filled with ice cubes, puree, and enjoy!

2. Virgin Bora Bora cocktail
100 ml (3.4 oz.) pineapple juice
60 ml (2 oz.) passion fruit juice
10 ml (0.34 oz.) grenadine syrup
10 ml (0.34 oz.) lemon juice
Pour ingredients into a blender with ice cubes, blend, and enjoy!

3. Virgin mojito
Club soda
2 teaspoons cane sugar
A few mint leaves
A few ice cubes

4. Cranberry cocktail
Cranberry juice
Ginger ale or 7 Up

5. Tea cocktail
2 parts flavoured tea
2 parts apple juice
1 part pineapple juice

Find more recipes in this brochure from the Montreal Diet Dispensary: Pregnant? Don’t mix it with alcohol.

Help is available
  • Where to turn if you want to quit drinking:
    Drugs: Help and Referral
    Telephone: 514527-2626 or 1800265-2626 (24/7)
    Website: www.aidedrogue.ca/en/
  • For more information about the Alcochoix+ program:
    Website: www.quebec.ca
  • You can consult the documents published Éduc’alcool and Quebec’s Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux.
  • You can also talk to your prenatal care provider or contact your CLSC or Info-Social (811). Remember, health care professionals are there to advise and guide you, not judge you.

Things to keep in mind

  • Alcohol passes directly into the baby’s bloodstream and can harm their development.
  • Pregnant women are advised not to drink alcohol, regardless of the type, amount, or frequency.
  • If you are finding it difficult to quit drinking during your pregnancy, ask for advice from a health care professional.

 

Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Valérie Samson, Nursing Executive at the Centre of Excellence in Maternal-Fetal-Maternal Medicine, CHU Sainte-Justine
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: December 2019

 

Photo: GettyImages/MorePixels

 

Sources

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Alcohol-Free Pregnancy. alcoholfreepregnancy.ca
  • Montreal Diet Dispensary. Pregnant? Don’t mix it with alcohol www.dispensaire.ca
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec. www.inspq.qc.ca
  • Institut national de santé publique du Québec. “Alcool, grossesse et allaitement.” www.inspq.qc.ca
  • Caring for Kids. Canadian Paediatric Society. “Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.” caringforkids.cps.ca