As a GP with a special interest in women’s and children’s health, I’m often asked whether light drinking during pregnancy affects the baby’s health. There are a number of things that affect the blood alcohol levels in pregnant women. For instance, how much food they’ve eaten, their metabolism and weight are all important factors that affect how quickly women eliminate alcohol from their bloodstream, which may explain why babies born to different women who drink similar amounts of alcohol may be affected differently.
Nonetheless, both heavy and light drinking is proven to directly affect the foetus. Consuming four or more drinks at any one time is linked with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Children with FASD may have significant lifelong disabilities including characteristic facial abnormalities, growth deficiencies, learning disabilities, low IQ, language delays, and behavioural problems.
Less heavy drinking (more than two drinks a day) is linked with alcohol-related birth defects. Furthermore, alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, or having a baby with a low birth weight.
While frequent and binge drinking of alcohol during pregnancy can have serious life complications for the foetus, the evidence is more ambiguous when it comes to very light drinking. Some experts believe that an occasional drink in the second or third trimester, even so much as one drink per day is fine; while others look at the evidence and assert that no amount of alcohol is safe.
Personally (and as a mother of one happy, healthy chubba bubba), I recommend women avoid all alcohol in pregnancy. In my opinion, drinking during pregnancy for relaxation or enjoyment does not outweigh the potential risks to your baby. Ultimately, the decision is yours. Just ensure you know the risks and drink as little as possible.
If you think you may have an alcohol problem, talk to your GP about getting some help or go to www.aa.org.au for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and services in your area.
Dr Jacqui Kelly MBBS, FRACGP