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Kicking Alcohol to Prepare for Pregnancy: What to Know & Tips to Stop Drinking

Dr. Jayasudha Gude | December 18, 2021

Whether you’ve been trying to conceive for years or are welcoming a surprise bundle of joy, pregnancy is a time marked by changes. From your growing belly and changing hormones to your revised diet and exercise routines, it seems like your whole life’s suddenly different. And one thing that’s definitely got to go is your evening glass of wine.

There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that any sexually active woman who isn’t on birth control should abstain from drinking completely, as they may not know they are pregnant until four to six weeks into the pregnancy. It estimates about three million U.S. women are at risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancies because they aren’t following this advice.

Alcohol use while pregnant could result in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), a group of physical, behavioral, and intellectual conditions that could affect the child for the duration of his or her life, resulting in anything from speech and language delays to learning disabilities and impaired judgment.

“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” said CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking. The risk is real. Why take the chance?”

That first month — when you may have no idea you’re pregnant — is a crucial time in the baby’s development. The neural tube, which later becomes the brain, skull, and spine, and crucial organs such as the heart, are forming during this time. Drinking could interfere with their development and cause serious birth defects.

So if you’re planning to get pregnant, you should stop drinking before you start trying to conceive, not when you find out you’re already pregnant.

But while almost all obstetricians and gynecologists (OB-GYNs) advise patients to avoid alcohol altogether during all stages of pregnancy, that doesn’t mean you should panic if you had a drink before you knew you were pregnant, advised Dr. Mara Thur, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Abington-Jefferson Health in Abington, Pennsylvania. 

“Even though technically no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy, most studies have shown that fetal alcohol syndrome is caused by moderate to excessive alcohol consumption on a routine basis during pregnancy,” she said. “That means four to five drinks per day.”

Now that you know why it’s important to give up alcohol during pregnancy, here are some strategies to help you do it:

Find a replacement.

Many people drink a glass of wine or can of beer after a long day at work to unwind and relax. They might view it as a small bright spot during a stressful day. But an end-of-work treat doesn’t have to be alcoholic. Try replacing it with a booze-free beverage you enjoy, such as hot tea, a favorite soft drink, or a mocktail such as club soda with lime. There are some great alcohol-free mocktail mixers on the market these days, including Blake Lively’s Betty Buzz. You’ll still feel like you’re giving yourself a treat, but you won’t jeopardize the health of your baby. 

Tell people about your needs.

If you can’t watch your significant other enjoy a beer with dinner without wanting one yourself, ask them to stop drinking around you. If you don’t feel comfortable attending a friend’s birthday party at a bar, let them know your feelings and ask if you could take them out for a dry lunch or shopping date instead. If your loved ones don’t know what you need to do to avoid alcohol, they can’t help you achieve it.

Explore other ways to reduce stress.

There are plenty of ways to relax and unwind that don’t involve alcohol. Try getting some exercise (consult your doctor before starting a new routine). End each day with a bubble bath, complete with candles and your favorite music. Organic Bath Co.’s line of products turns any bath or shower into a luxurious experience. Be sure to check with your doctor before engaging in this practice, to make sure it’s safe for you and your baby. If you bathe, the water should be below 98 degrees Fahrenheit and the bath should be brief, as overly long baths can cause infections. Alternatively, you could ease your mind through prenatal yoga or meditation.

Be proud of yourself.

Giving up little indulgences isn’t easy. So congratulate yourself for your willpower and keep telling yourself how a healthy baby will be worth avoiding alcohol. After all, health is one of the best gifts you can give your child. 

Swapping some juice for a glass of wine may not initially seem like the most fun choice, but it’s well worth it in the end. And if you find yourself unable to stop drinking during your pregnancy, seek professional help immediately. Your child’s future health depends on it.

Dr. Jayasudha Gude, MD graduated from NTR University of health sciences in 2010 in India. After graduating, she worked in India for about a year and moved to the United States in 2012. Worked as a research scholar at Stanford University and had extensive clinical experience in the fields of Medicine and Psychiatry. Currently, she is working as a research volunteer and is actively involved in crisis counseling. She is very passionate about psychiatry and looks forward to contributing more in this field.

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