I sometimes joke that my second child was the product of a bottle of wine and having to deal with losing Patrick on the TV show Offspring – one of those times where emotional comfort was required.
While I joke about it now, the truth is, about four weeks after that particular evening when I saw two lines appear on a pregnancy test, I was terrified.
Terrified about what harm I may have caused my baby by drinking alcohol before I knew I was pregnant.
Given that nearly half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned, I know many parents who have been in this situation, just as I was. It can be quite stressful and overwhelming when you think you may have done something that could impact on your baby's health and development.
So what impact does drinking alcohol during pregnancy have on our babies?
Based on the latest scientific evidence, the National Health and Medical Research Council have recently revised the National Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking. Health experts have recommended to prevent any harm from alcohol to an unborn child, those who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink any alcohol; and for those who are breastfeeding, they recommend that not drinking alcohol is safest for the baby.
I spoke to Dr Colleen O’Leary (Epidemiologist and Alcohol and Pregnancy Researcher) to debunk five common misconceptions about drinking while pregnant.
Myth 1: "Drinking before finding out you are pregnant is fine."
Let’s start with the situation that many parents, including myself, have found themselves in.
With drinking commonplace in Australia's culture, many people often drink alcohol before finding out they are pregnant.
But the answer to this one is that there is no "safe amount or time to drink alcohol during pregnancy."
The NHMRC Guidelines tell us that:
"A baby’s brain starts growing very early in pregnancy, often before the mother knows she is pregnant," and says that “when a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, so does the developing baby."
Alcohol can unfortunately damage the baby’s brain, because alcohol is a teratogen – an agent that can interrupt the development of an embryo (or fetus).
Speaking to Mamamia, Dr O’Leary said, "If a woman drinks alcohol without knowing she is pregnant, it does not automatically mean the baby will be harmed as there are a range of factors that play a role in determining the risk of harm to the baby. But for those in this situation, stopping alcohol consumption once you find out you are pregnant will prevent further risk to your baby."