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Drinking when you’re pregnant can be harmful to your baby, so it’s safest to stop drinking before you conceive.
Alcohol and Pregnancy
If you are pregnant, could be pregnant, or are planning to get pregnant, the safest choice is not to drink alcohol at all as there is no known safe amount or type of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy.
If you drink alcohol while pregnant, your baby is at risk for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD can cause lifelong physical, mental, and behavioural challenges and learning difficulties. All types of alcoholic beverages (e.g. beer, wine, spirits) can be harmful to a developing baby.
If you do drink and find out you’re pregnant, it’s important to realize it’s never too late to stop. Every step you take to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume and stop drinking reduces the risk of harm to your developing baby.
Planning your pregnancy and getting healthy before you get pregnant, including avoiding alcohol, is an important way to reduce the risk of FASD.
Almost 50 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned. If you don’t want to become pregnant, be sure to use an effective method of birth control.
Even low level alcohol use can disrupt normal menstrual cycles making it more difficult to plan a pregnancy. Women with substance use issues are also at a higher risk for menstrual and reproductive disorders.
Partners and friends have an important role in supporting pregnant women to avoid alcohol. You can support your pregnant partner by: cutting down or quitting drinking yourself, helping plan healthy activities for both of you, helping her stay healthy and reduce stress, preparing tasty non-alcoholic beverage options, and helping her access professional support if she needs it.
Women and Alcohol Facts
Studies show that women today are more likely to drink than women of their mother’s generation for a number of reasons. Many are living busy lives, and in a culture where alcohol is often present, women may feel like they’ve ‘earned’ the right to a drink or that alcohol helps them escape life’s stresses. A few facts to keep in mind:
- Quitting drinking or drinking within the low risk drinking guidelines reduces your risk for health problems including certain cancers (e.g. breast cancer), osteoporosis, brain shrinkage and impairment, gastric ulcers, major depression, heart disease, stroke and alcohol-related liver disease. Women develop alcohol related liver disease after a shorter period of heavy drinking than men.
- Women process alcohol differently than men do, and as a result, women become intoxicated after consuming smaller amounts of alcohol.
- Alcohol can decrease motor coordination, judgment, emotional control and reasoning power, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.
Using alcohol in moderation as set out in the national Low Risk Drinking Guidelines can reduce risk – health and otherwise. The guidelines suggest women drink no more than two standard drinks on most occasions and no more than 10 drinks a week.
If you need support to stop drinking or have questions about alcohol use and pregnancy , talk to your healthcare provider and use this list of programs and services:
Contact Your Local Public Health Unit: For contact information and to find out the services that are available in your area click here. When you call, ask for a public health nurse or the mental health and addictions team.
BC Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service is available 24 hours per day for information on where counseling is available in your area. Lower Mainland 604-660-9382; Outside Lower Mainland, toll-free in BC 1-800-663-1441.
Pregnancy Outreach Programs: Offer support to pregnant women in communities across BC. To find a program in your area, visit the BC Association of Pregnancy Outreach Programs website or call your local public health unit.