Alcohol and pregnancy, an incompatible pair

Are you pregnant or hoping to become pregnant? Your drinking habits will probably have to be revised.

The development of the foetus

As you well know, pregnancy generates a great number of changes in a woman’s body. One of the most important changes, although not the most apparent one, is the development of the placenta. The placenta has three primary functions for the baby, it:

  • enables the foetus to absorb nutrients and oxygen from the mother’s blood
  • secretes hormones
  • protects the baby against certain viruses, bacteria and drugs

However, the placenta doesn’t filter the alcohol present in the mother’s blood. Therefore, the baby is exposed to the same amount of alcohol as the mother. Moreover, the elimination of alcohol in the foetus is slower than that of the pregnant mother, so the unborn child is exposed to alcohol for a longer period of time than the mother. Alcohol is considered to be a teratogen, meaning it can cause organ, limb, and tissue malformations in the baby. It’s food for thought, isn’t it?

The risks of alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption can potentially harm the foetus, but it can also compromise a healthy pregnancy. Drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of:

  • miscarriage
  • premature birth
  • death of the baby before birth

The risks to the unborn child increase proportionally to the quantity and frequency of alcohol ingested by the mother. Pregnant women who drink significant quantities of alcohol may give birth to babies affected by a series of problems caused by foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). However, this type of problem doesn’t affect all children whose mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy. FASD affects about 1% of the Canadian population, and children who suffer from it may experience:

  • failure to thrive (weight, height, and head circumference)
  • physical malformations, especially of the face
  • speech, learning, attention, memory or judgment problems
  • cognitive deficit
  • social challenges
  • behavioural problems

Since exposure to alcohol by the foetus constitutes one of the main avoidable causes of failure to thrive in children, refraining from consuming alcohol during pregnancy is undoubtedly the best thing to do. Women planning to become pregnant should review their alcohol consumption as early as possible.

Safe alcohol consumption?

There is no scientific information concerning alcohol consumption showing that it’s completely safe for the baby. Because of this gray area, it’s recommended not to drink alcohol during pregnancy.

At the start of the fifth week of pregnancy and onward, several organs develop simultaneously. The baby’s brain is particularly sensitive to the effects of alcohol throughout its development. Therefore, alcohol should be avoided throughout pregnancy. All types of alcohol in equal quantities (beer, wine, cider, and spirits) have the same effects on the child’s health.

How to go about it

Have you made the wise decision not to consume alcohol during your pregnancy? That’s great! Here are a few tips on how to help see you through.

  • Practise new relaxation techniques (yoga and meditation) if you use alcohol as a stress releaser.
  • Choose healthy eating habits. Note that alcoholic beverages used while cooking aren’t harmful because alcohol evaporates when it’s boiled.
  • Surround yourself with people who support your decision and resist social pressure.
  • Always keep a supply of non-alcoholic beverages (apple cider, flavoured carbonated water, soft drink, lemonade, and fruit juice).
  • Try out some of the numerous "mocktail" recipes available on the internet.
  • Choose meeting places where alcohol isn’t the focal point of activities, such as your home or a café.
  • Remember that this is just a temporary measure.

A lot of advice is provided to future mothers. Despite the spate of information that could easily generate some stress, try to think of your pregnancy as an ideal opportunity to take care of yourself and your baby. Consult reliable sources such as Éduc’alcool or INSPQ-Public health expertise and reference centre to learn more about it. The support of future dads is also very important. Ask your spouse to support you in your decision to refrain from consuming alcohol—you may even want to put him up to the challenge.


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Alcohol and pregnancy, an incompatible pair

You’re just a few weeks pregnant and already some lifestyle changes are necessary. Your drinking habits will also have to be revised because they’ll now be closely linked to your unborn child’s development.
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