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Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy – is it safe?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that there is no safe level of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and that abstaining is the safest approach. recent report in the United States supports the WHO recommendation and advises that all pregnant women should avoid alcohol completely.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that there is no safe level of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and that abstaining is the safest approach. A recent report in the United States supports the WHO recommendation and advises that all pregnant women should avoid alcohol completely.

The attitude towards alcohol consumption varies largely from country to country with recommendations being less stringent in the UK and Europe. Experts in Australia have not yet arrived at a consensus on what is considered a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

However, professionals agree that there is no particular period during pregnancy when drinking is considered to be one hundred per cent safe. As a result, the Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) recommends that pregnant women limit their alcohol consumption to small, infrequent amounts.

The Effects

Many pregnant women admit to drinking alcohol during pregnancy, particularly before realising that they have conceived, and their babies have been born healthy. Although research is still being carried out into the long-term side effects, it is generally thought that a few drinks is unlikely to seriously harm the developing baby.

What must be taken into account is the fact that everybody metabolises alcohol at varying rates and what affects one person may affect another quite differently.

It is known that the detrimental effects of alcohol are compounded if you smoke, have nutritional imbalances, consume high levels of caffeine or take certain types of medication. It is these “unknown” factors that often prompt women to avoid alcohol altogether.

In the same way that women respond differently to alcohol, babies also respond in different ways. The effects of alcohol on the unborn child can vary considerably. The effects may be influenced by:

  • the quantity of alcohol consumed
  • the type of alcohol consumed
  • whether or not the alcohol was consumed over a period of time or during a drinking binge
  • the developmental stage of the pregnancy

Babies born to women who have been heavily dependent on alcohol during pregnancy may suffer from withdrawal after birth. Symptoms of this reaction may include a bloated abdomen, irritability and tremors and fits.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

Heavy drinking during pregnancy is of great concern and can cause Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), a condition that is known to produce the following:

  • Damage to the baby’s central nervous system causing mental retardation or severe learning disabilities
  • Low birthweight and severely reduced weight gain following birth
  • Facial deformities, including eye problems
  • Other deformities, including spinal curvature, abnormally-formed toes and fingers
  • Defects of the organs

Heavy drinking during the final three months of pregnancy may increase the risk of still-birth, thought to be caused by a reduction in the amount of oxygen being delivered to the developing baby.

Foetal Alcohol Effect

Some babies who are born to mothers who are heavy drinkers escape FAS but are born with the less serious condition of Foetal Alcohol Effect (FAE). Babies with FAE may be born with low birthweight, have difficulties sleeping and feeding, and may experience problems with their hearing and vision. It is also thought that some behavioural and emotional problems are linked to FAE.




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