Alcohol and Pregnancy
Part of being a mom is making the right decisions for ourselves and our children. This starts in pregnancy. Here are some frequently asked questions which may make some of the important decisions a bit easier.
- What are the risks if I drink alcohol or use drugs when pregnant?
Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs pass from your bloodstream to the baby. Your baby is developing and these substances can affect his/her development. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the name for the range of harms caused by alcohol during pregnancy. These range from mild to more severe problems such as brain damage, vision and hearing problems, slow growth, and birth defects.
Possible complications from using drugs and tobacco include miscarriage, premature delivery, low birth weight, birth complications and withdrawal symptoms in babies.
- Is it okay to drink beer or wine just not hard liquor?A bottle of beer, a glass of wine, and a shot of liquor all have roughly the same amounts of alcohol in them. So all can have the same effect on you and your baby.
- How much alcohol is risky?It is known that alcohol can harm the developing baby, but exactly how much alcohol it takes to cause the harm is not known. There is no known safe level of alcohol use in pregnancy. The potential of harming the baby is influenced by many factors: how much alcohol is used, if other drugs are being used at the same time, the mother’s overall health and stress levels, genetics, and many other factors. It is safest not to drink at all when you are pregnant or when you are planning on becoming pregnant.
- Which is more harmful to my baby-to continue using alcohol and drugs or to withdraw from them?If you’re currently using substances and you’re pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant, it can be important to remember that any reduction in your use of alcohol and drugs can help reduce the risks for you baby. In most cases it is best if you withdraw from all substances, and it is important to get a doctor or community health nurse to monitor your health and the health of the baby while you do this. For some drugs it is best to taper off slowly, and the help of a doctor is important with this.
- I’ve known women who have consumed alcohol and/or used drugs during pregnancy and their babies seem fine-how can that be?Some of the effects of alcohol and other drugs on the baby are obvious at birth, but other effects may not appear until later in life. As well, alcohol and other drugs affect each pregnant woman and baby differently. It depends on when, and how often you drink. It also depends on whether or not you use one or several drugs at the same time, what else is going on in your life, your health and nutrition, and how your body reacts. Different problems also happen at different stages of your pregnancy.
- Do alcohol and drugs affect breast milk?Alcohol and other drugs can affect your breast milk. Infants exposed to alcohol in their mother’s breast milk may have more difficulty learning to co-ordinate their movements, and, infants may have less restful sleep and sleep for shorter periods of time. However, if you choose to have a drink, feed your baby first.
- What if I was drinking or using drugs before I knew I was pregnant?The effects on your baby will depend on the things listed in question 5. If you’re concerned, Focus on ways you can improve your health now, and find support from others who can help you reduce your stress.
- What else can I do to reduce the risks?
As well as reducing or eliminating your use of alcohol and/or drugs there are other steps you can take to be healthy and to protect your developing baby:
Get plenty of rest.
See your doctor, nurse or midwife regularly.
Eat healthy food.
Reduce your stress by doing things that you enjoy, such as, going for walks, taking a warm bath, or talking with a supportive friend or family member.
- How can I get more information and support?
SHARE Family and Community Services offers services for individuals and families who are experiencing problems related to drug/alcohol misuse. Services include education, planning, counseling, referral and prevention. For more information or to access counselling services call (604) 936-3900.
Pregnancy Outreach Programs are available to support pregnant women to have healthy babies across BC. To find a Pregnancy Outreach Program in your area, visit www.bcapop.ca
You can call the BC NurseLine to speak to a registered nurse, available 24-hours every day: Dial 8-1-1
For more information about SHARE Family & Community Services’ Substance Use Programs call 604.936.3900.