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May 4, 2021 • read
Can I have a half-glass of wine with dinner if I’m pregnant?
You know you’re not supposed to drink alcohol while pregnant. But, chances are you’ve also heard that the occasional glass of wine during pregnancy won’t hurt. You may even know women who’ve done it, and gone on to have perfectly healthy children. Though it may seem unlikely that a small amount of alcohol could cause damage, the truth about drinking during pregnancy is more complex, and darker.
What are the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy?
Alcohol is a teratogen, which means it crosses the placenta, causing harm to a developing fetus. As a teratogen, alcohol is in the same category as radiation, certain viruses, chemicals, and drugs, among other things. Teratogens affect a developing fetus in differing ways — it all depends on the point in fetal development when the exposure takes place, the specific teratogen, and the amount or pattern of exposure.
In terms of alcohol, drinking during pregnancy can cause congenital abnormalities in the baby, ranging from intellectual disability to miscarriage. One of the most serious and long-term effects is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). While there is a range in terms of impairment, children with FASD are more likely to have sensory sensitivities, issues with impulse control, learning disabilities, mental illness such as depression, specific facial deformities, and an inability to understand the consequences of their actions. FASD is the number one cause of preventable developmental disability in Canada. While FASD can be treated, it has no cure.
How much alcohol is too much during pregnancy?
There’s a myth out there that FASD only happens to women who binge drink. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Binge drinking for women means having four or more alcoholic beverages in one interval. According to Sick Kids Hospital, women with the highest risk of having a baby with FASD have two or more alcoholic beverages a day. Even if you’re drinking significantly less than two drinks a day, however, you’re not in the green zone. The same goes for consuming light beer, or diluted drinks like a wine spritzer — they’re not “safer” than a glass of wine, for example.
The effects of regular exposure to alcohol are cumulative, and drinking regularly throughout your pregnancy is dangerous, even in small amounts. We don’t yet know why certain babies are born with FASD and others aren’t, or what level of drinking will result in a baby with FASD. Your baby’s brain develops throughout your pregnancy and any amount of alcohol can have effects. This means that alcohol exposure at any time during the pregnancy can put the baby at risk — even before the woman knows she’s pregnant. The safest course of action is to steer clear of it completely while you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
Do the positive effects of a daily glass of red wine cancel out the negative effects?
But what about maternal health? Isn’t a daily glass of red wine supposed to be good for your health? Actually, the research doesn’t bear that out. We don’t have data from long-term, randomized trials measuring the effects of a daily glass of wine. The existing studies we have on the subject are observational — meaning any health benefits of drinking might be purely coincidental. If you’re feeling anxious and are used to unwinding with a glass of wine at the end of the day, speak to your doctor about other alternatives. There’s no safe level of alcohol intake during pregnancy, no matter how much you might feel it de-stresses you.
I’ve stopped drinking during my pregnancy. Can I start again while nursing?
While drinking and breastfeeding is less dangerous than drinking during pregnancy, it’s still not recommended, especially during the newborn phase. Alcohol passes into breast milk, and your little one is much less able to process alcohol than you are. While you might have heard that it’s ok, there’s a lot of conflicting and downright bad information out there about drinking and breastfeeding — spoiler, pumping and dumping doesn’t help, and alcohol doesn’t increase your milk production. For more in-depth info on the topic, check out our blog on drinking and nursing.
While forgoing your evening glass of wine might be a bummer, nine months goes by surprisingly quickly when you’re looking forward to having a new baby. Better to err on the side of caution than to risk the potential consequences of drinking during pregnancy. The fact is, consuming any amount of alcohol during your pregnancy is potentially dangerous. It’s just not worth risking the health of your baby.