Bupa Information on What to do Before Becoming Pregnant

Before you become pregnant

The Department of Health recommends that women trying for a baby shouldn’t drink alcohol at all. Regularly drinking more than the daily recommended units increases your risk of a number of health problems and reduces your chance of getting pregnant. Cutting out alcohol helps you to prepare for a healthy pregnancy.

Drinking during pregnancy

The advice on drinking during pregnancy can be confusing. The Department of Health recommends pregnant women shouldn’t drink alcohol at all throughout their entire pregnancy; whereas the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that it’s most important not to drink during the first three months. Furthermore, some studies suggest that one or two units of alcohol a week during pregnancy is OK.

The safest choice is still not to drink at all. Cut out the alcohol and you improve your chance of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. If you do choose to drink however, you should limit yourself to one or two units of alcohol, once or twice a week. Any more than this amount may harm your developing baby.

Problems for you during pregnancy

Heavy drinking during pregnancy can increase your risk of the following problems.

  • Miscarriage and stillbirth. These are usually due to chance, but drinking alcohol while pregnant can increase your risk.
  • High blood pressure. This can lead to growth problems for your baby or premature birth.
  • Premature labour/birth. This is when you go into labour before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Problems for your developing baby

Your baby is particularly vulnerable to alcohol during the first three months of pregnancy, when his or her organs and nervous system are developing. Because alcohol is processed by the liver and this is one of the last organs to mature, drinking any more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week even after three months can still cause problems for your developing baby.

If you drink more than recommended limits during pregnancy, your baby is at risk of developing a group of physical, mental and behavioural problems, known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). These can include:

  • Facial disfigurements, such as a small head, flat face or narrow eyes
  • Slow growth before and after birth
  • Learning difficulties, poor memory and hyperactivity

Not all women who drink alcohol during pregnancy have a baby with FASD but the more you drink, the greater the risk becomes.

Drinking alcohol in pregnancy is also linked to an increased risk of cot death, or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This is the sudden and unexpected death of a baby under two years old.

Alcohol and breastfeeding

If you are breastfeeding, the occasional drink is unlikely to harm your baby. However, alcohol does pass through to your baby in very small amounts in your breast milk. If you’re breastfeeding, the Department of Health recommends you limit yourself to one or two units of alcohol, once or twice a week. If you drink more than this:

  • Your milk may taste different and put your baby off
  • It may reduce the amount of milk you produce
  • It may make your baby too sleepy to feed
  • It may make it harder for your baby to digest the milk
  • It may affect your baby’s sleep pattern

Consider expressing milk beforehand if you decide to have a drink and don’t breastfeed your baby for two to three hours after having an alcoholic drink.

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