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Alcohol During Pregnancy

No alcohol is the safest choice for pregnant and breast feeding women. This is because it can affect the development of the baby.

Alcohol and Pregnancy
Alcohol and Pregnancy

 

No amount of alcohol use during pregnancy has been proven to be safe.

 

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol (2009) recommend: 1

  • For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option; and
  • For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.

Why is alcohol harmful to an unborn baby?

Alcohol is a teratogen. 2 A teratogen is any agent that can disturb the development of an embryo or fetus. If a fetus is exposed to alcohol it can result in a range of adverse effects to the brain and organs of the unborn child. 1 5

The reason alcohol should be avoided is because it can affect the development of the baby throughout pregnancy – there is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. 1

If a woman stops drinking before she gets pregnant, she can avoid exposing her baby to alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy. The early stages of pregnancy sees the fetus being most vulnerable to structural damage in the first three to six weeks of gestation. 8 The effects of alcohol consumption on the fetus can occur throughout the duration of the pregnancy. 1

Women who have drunk alcohol before they knew they were pregnant should know that stopping drinking may reduce the risk to the baby. 1

Women who are concerned about their alcohol use during pregnancy or their child’s development, should talk to a health professional. 1

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

The nature and degree of harm to the baby due to alcohol can be hard to predict. 1 The range of adverse effects to the brain and organs of the unborn child is collectively known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.5 1

One of these disorders is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children with FAS can experience a range of cognitive, behavioural and physical impairments 7 and are characterised by:

  • Facial abnormalities including: a thin upper lip, smooth philtrum, upturned nose, flat nasal bridge, epicanthal fold 6
  • Impaired growth 1
  • Abnormal structure and function of central nervous system 1 7
  • Limb defects 6
  • Intellectual and learning disabilities 7
  • Musculoskeletal defects 7
  • Speech and language delays 7
  • Behavioural difficulties 7
  • Poor social skills 7

What about breastfeeding?

The NHMRC Guideline recommend for breastfeeding mothers not drinking is the safest option. This is particularly important in the first month after delivery until breastfeeding is well established. 1

If breastfeeding mothers choose to drink the Guidelines recommend no more than two standard drinks on any day. Breastfeeding women should try to avoid drinking immediately before breastfeeding. 1

Evidence has shown alcohol adversely affects lactation, infant behaviour (eg feeding, arousal) and psychomotor development of the breastfed baby. 10

The rates of drinking during pregnancy are high, with a 2007 survey reporting a national rate of 47 per cent, 4 and rates of 59 per cent in Western Australia. 3

A greater proportion of non-Aboriginal women drink alcohol during pregnancy than Aboriginal women. 1 9

 

It doesn’t matter if it is beer, wine or spirits. No type of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

 

Resources

 
References

1 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol: Commonwealth of Australia. Available at http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/ds10

2 Nash, Koren & Rovet 2011, as cited in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Knowledge, attitudes and practice in the Western Australian justice system (2013). Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Centre for Child Health Research, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia. Retrieved from: http://www.fare.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Final-report-fasd-justice-system.pdf

3 Colvin et al 2007 as cited in National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol: Commonwealth of Australia. Available at http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/ds10

4 Wallace et al 2007 as cited in National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol: Commonwealth of Australia. Available at http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/ds10

5 Astley et al, 2009 as cited in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Knowledge, attitu des and practice in the Western Australian justice system (2013). Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Centre for Child Health Research, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia. Retrieved from: http://www.fare.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Final-report-fasd-justice-system.pdf

6 Wattendorf & Muenke (2005) Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. American Academy of Family Physicians, Volume 72, Number 2

7 Paley & O’Connor. Behavioral Interventions for Children and Adolescents With Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

8 O’Leary 2004 as cited in as cited in National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol: Commonwealth of Australia. Available at http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/ds1

9 Zubrick, S.R., Silburn, S.R., Lawrence, D.M., Mitrou, F, Dalby, R, Blair, E., Griffin, J, Milroy, H., De Maio, J, Cox, A, & Li, J. (2005) as cited in National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol: Commonwealth of Australia. Available at http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/ds1

10 Giglia & Binns (2006) as cited in National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol: Commonwealth of Australia. Available at http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/ds1