Many women are aware that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix — there’s simply no safe intake of alcohol when there’s a bun in the oven. But even with the best of intentions, pregnancy can catch you off-guard when you were still consuming alcohol. How would that affect the baby? Read on.

“I just learnt I’m pregnant. I was drinking alcohol during the first few weeks of my pregnancy before I knew I was pregnant and I’m worried for my baby. What should I do?”

It is crucial that you stop drinking completely as soon as you learn you’re expecting, irrespective of how far along you are — it’s never too late to go cold-turkey. Inform your GP about this and be sure to attend all your routine prenatal care appointment.

It’s easier said than done but don’t beat yourself up for drinking when you weren’t aware you were pregnant. According to research, the blastocyst — a cluster of cells from which the embryo is formed — is unlikely to be harmed by alcohol because it isn’t connected to the mother’s blood supply until around two weeks after conception.

Stop worrying! High stress levels adversely affect your unborn baby

Worrying excessively can actually harm your baby: a recent study showed that high levels of the maternal stress hormone cortisol were reflected by similarly elevated levels in the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby. This could cause delayed development and increased susceptibility to emotional disorders and ADHD. Another study showed that expecting mothers who were overly anxious were more likely to go into premature labour and deliver very small babies. That’s because cortisol appeared to diminish placental blood flow (and hence, nutrient transport to the foetus), thereby affecting foetal growth.

“When is my baby the most vulnerable to alcohol?”

US scientists from the University of California found that unborn babies are at the highest risk of foetal alcohol syndrome (FASD) if their mothers consumed alcohol during the seventh to 12th week of pregnancy. The researchers studied 992 pregnant women over three decades and found that for each extra daily drink during this window, the baby had a 25 percent higher risk of being born with an abnormally shaped lip; a 22 percent larger risk of having an unusually thin upper lip; and 12 percent greater probability of being born with a smaller-than-normal head. These women also had a 16 percent greater risk of delivering a low birth weight baby. FASD refers to a constellation of physical and mental birth defects.

“Many women drink alcohol while pregnant and give birth to perfectly healthy kids. Why shouldn’t I?”

Differences in genes influence the way body enzymes are programmed to process alcohol. It is possible that these women possess genes that ‘programme’ these enzymes in such a way that they metabolise alcohol more efficiently. If your enzymes are less efficient and you drink alcohol while pregnant, this could mean that your baby would be exposed to alcohol for a longer period of time. Besides, every pregnancy is different — consuming alcohol could hurt one baby more than the other, even if they are siblings.

The advice remains: if you’re trying to conceive or are pregnant, it’s better to err on the side of caution and avoid alcohol completely.


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