Is drinking alcohol during pregnancy ok? And what if I already did? A postpartum nurse weighs in on drinking while expecting a baby. Plus, the guidelines for breastfeeding and alcohol.

It wasn’t too long ago that it was believed that anything we looked at may affect our unborn babies. Staring at something with spots too long? You would have a child with freckles. Eating strawberries? Your baby would be born with a birthmark. Have dark nipples during pregnancy? You would birth a boy. So, what is the most up-to-date information when drinking in pregnancy? Let’s look at if drinking alcohol during pregnancy is ok.

Thankfully, we are learning new things all the time, and it is giving us more of a picture of what really causes what. In the 1960’s it was believed you could smoke and drink during pregnancy and it was no big deal. In the 1950s smoking was touted as the “healthy” thing to do, and kids were raised around secondhand smoke without batting an eye.

Of course, now, thanks to decades of research, we know smoking is quite harmful to our health (and the health of our baby).

Is drinking alcohol during pregnancy ok?

So, let’s talk about alcohol use.

Here’s the short answer. Even small amounts of alcohol are considered unsafe for pregnant women. It has nothing to do with the woman but everything to do with what crosses over to the developing baby.

The American College of Obstetricians (ACOG) does not recommend any alcohol, smoking, or marijuana use during pregnancy. It’s not to keep you from having fun. It’s because your baby does not filter out things through their liver yet. There is no way for them to regulate the amount of substance that mom is taking in. Alcoholic beverages need to be a no during pregnancy. The rules change a bit with breastfeeding though. See below to find out how.

Dads need to know this stuff too! Here are the best pregnancy books for new dads.

​But what if I drank before I knew I was pregnant? 

The occasional glass of wine or occasional drink in early pregnancy before a pregnant woman knew she was expecting more than likely will have no consequence. I have taken care of many patients who drank on a special occasion before they were aware they were pregnant. Though they worried about it, their baby came out perfectly healthy.

The problem comes in when a mother drinks often before she knows she’s pregnant or drinks throughout her pregnancy. This may cause issues for her baby. But take heart! If you drank a lot before knowing you were pregnant, stop right away. It will still benefit your baby. Brain growth happens all throughout pregnancy, meaning even if it was hindered early on, your baby can catch up to an extent when alcohol isn’t present.

Though we know alcohol crosses the umbilical cord and can affect a baby’s development, it likely doesn’t if the prenatal alcohol exposure was minor.

The umbilical cord carries nutrients & oxygen to your baby. They can’t say “no” to what they take in. Photo shared with permission.

But here’s the thing, heavy drinking or binge drinking, especially if prolonged, will lead to fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol disorders in your baby. This can cause lifelong problems in your baby.

Brain growth takes place in every trimester. Even if you have been drinking during pregnancy, stop now. Your baby’s brain will benefit!

Is drinking alcohol during pregnancy ok?

According to the CDC, “Fetal alcohol disorder or Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person who was exposed to alcohol before birth. These effects can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning. Often, a person with an FASD has a mix of these problems.” The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with these findings. Symptoms are low birth weight, behavioral problems, and language delays.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe. It is most associated with alcohol use throughout pregnancy. This can be from heavy to moderate drinking. Symptoms are abnormal facial features, behavioral issues, developmental problems, developmental disabilities, poor coordination, increased risk of birth defects, and premature birth.

The safest choice is to have zero alcohol consumption during pregnancy. This includes all types of alcohol: beer, red wine, any other glasses of wine, or alcoholic drink. Even limiting drinks to a small glass of wine on a special occasion can pass to your baby and have negative effects. It’s best to say no.

Health professionals agree that the safest option and best advice is to avoid alcohol throughout your entire pregnancy. Any amount of alcohol can have a negative impact on your baby. The safest choice is to say “Not right now.” Though it can feel like a long time to say no, before you know it, you will be able to enjoy a drink again without the worry of what it may do to your baby.

Can I drink while breastfeeding?

It was not very long ago that it was recommended that if you drank a small glass of wine while breastfeeding, that you should pump and dump for eight hours. That’s a lot of wasted breast milk for light drinking!

You certainly wouldn’t want to use heavy alcohol consumption while nursing. Not only does this cross over into your breast milk, but it also dehydrates you and can decrease your milk supply. Plus, taking care of a baby under the influence is a big no-no. This is one of the things that lead to a higher risk of SIDS in infants.

That being said, a glass of red wine, champagne, beer, or other alcoholic drink with not much alcohol is acceptable while breastfeeding your baby. Drinking while pregnant is different than drinking while breastfeeding.

Here are the results from a new study (according to ACOG): If a mom has a drink when nursing, wait 3-4 hours before breastfeeding your baby again. This gives your body time to process it, and your baby will receive a negligible amount of alcohol.

If you do drink, hydrate! Hydrate! And hydrate some more! Even a small amount of alcohol leaves you dehydrated. This can greatly affect your milk supply. If you drink, be sure to give your body back the hydration it needs for yourself and your baby.

You may also like What to Wear After a Hospital Birth from a postpartum nurse.

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Rachel is a Postpartum Nurse of 15+ years. She is also a Spinning Babies® CPE, Childbirth Educator, Published Author, and Recipe Creator. Rachel's passion is to encourage and empower women in all things related to motherhood.

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