It’s a non-negotiable: once you fall pregnant, booze is out the window.
And not just for the nine months you’re carrying your child, either – most women also opt not to drink whilst breastfeeding.
And yet, for some strange reason the drinking taboo doesn’t seem to extend to the time spent trying to fall pregnant…or for the first few weeks that you are.
Research from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, found that 55% of women in the United States were still drinking whilst trying to conceive, as well as in the first four weeks of finding out they were actually pregnant.
So does it really matter if you drink whilst trying to conceive? And it is dangerous to drink in the early weeks of a pregnancy?
In February of 2015, the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) changed their advice regarding pregnancy and alcohol, saying that women who are trying to conceive should abstain from alcohol altogether.
The backlash was immediate. “Trying to get pregnant is hard enough without being told not to drink,” wrote the New Statesman, whilst The Telegraph UK responded to the RCOG by declaring that “Telling women not to drink when trying to conceive is patronising.”
I don’t know about you, but most women I know who are trying to fall pregnant are really making the most of the shiraz before it’s too late! But will this harm their unborn child-in-the-making?
Dr Katie Gault is a GP based in Victoria, and says that drinking whilst conceiving is definitely a no go.
“If you are planning to get pregnant a doctor would recommend not drinking for both women and men, as sperm quality can really be affected,” says Dr Gault.
“Obviously, women should try to avoid alcohol and drugs and take folate and pregnancy vitamins for three months prior to conception.”
Dr Gault goes on to say that many women with unplanned pregnancies face the stress and unknown regarding the health of their unborn child, conceived during a bout of heavy drinking or drug use.
“I commonly have seen women in antenatal clinics with unplanned pregnancies, who were drinking and taking drugs and wondering if they should terminate. We don't generally recommend it, but push for good early screening for malformations.” says Dr Gault.
Not drinking at all when trying to conceive eliminates all concerns over the baby’s health - however, the odd glass of wine isn’t going to have adverse effects. Dr Gault says that a ‘couple of standard drinks’ during the week is totally fine, but women over the age of 30 should be aware that it could have a greater effect than when they were in their 20s.
Regardless, you would have to be drinking more than a bottle a day before serious effects are noted.
“For fetal alcohol syndrome you usually need to be drinking consistently ‘too much’ throughout the pregnancy,” says Dr Gault.
Dr Ryan Harvey, Deputy Clinical Director of House Call Doctor, agrees that a moderate amount of alcohol consumption is unlikely to have dramatic results, but new parents shouldn’t underestimate how important those first few weeks of development really are.
“Laboratory studies have indicated that alcohol has the potential to affect embryonic development. In fact, the first trimester of pregnancy is crucial as the foetus develops organs and a brain, “ says Dr Harvey.
“According to studies, it’s during this period that alcohol may cause physical deformities and other abnormalities.”
But the reality is not quite as dramatic, he says.
“There is little anecdotal evidence to suggest that an occasional glass of champagne does any real harm to a foetus,” says Dr Harvey.
“As many women drink alcohol either during conception or the early weeks of pregnancy, we can assume that low-level drinking may not have as major an impact as laboratory studies have suggested.”
So answer perhaps is this: the odd glass of wine while pregnant will not be of harm to your baby. Don’t freak out.
But if you are planning to conceive, both you and your partner should kick the booze. It will reduce your stress, bring your body to optimum health, and give you both the healthiest possible start to your parenthood journey.
Nine months, people. You can do it.