Is It OK to Drink Alcohol in Early Pregnancy?

The 'rules' around drinking while pregnant seem to change every couple of decades. Is it ok to have an occasional drink, or is it better to extra cautious?

Is It OK to Drink Alcohol in Early Pregnancy?

For many of our mothers and grandmothers, the current prescriptive attitudes towards pregnancy may seem excessive. For example, until the early 1970s, drinking alcohol while pregnant wasn’t frowned upon – in fact, it was acceptable and even encouraged. So, is it OK to drink alcohol in early pregnancy?

Of course, so much has changed since that Mad Men world of heavy drinking and smoking 40-a-day in the office. The dangers of booze are much clearer now and, thanks to the wonders of the internet, every pregnant woman can make an informed decision about drinking while with child.

The National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome-UK tells us that this condition, which is caused by drinking while pregnant, affects up to 7,000 babies a year in the UK.

Symptoms include smaller than average heads, movement and co-ordination problems, and learning difficulties.

But how damaging is it to drink alcohol during the early stages of pregnancy in particular?

According to a study by Harvard University, small amounts of alcohol in the first trimester may be less risky than previously believed.

Dr Howard LeWine, chief medical editor of Harvard Health Publishing, said: “Minimal alcohol use during the first trimester doesn’t appear to increase the risk for high blood pressure complications, or premature birth or low birth weights.”

Birth outcomes among 5,628 women who were pregnant for the first time between 2004 and 2011 were compared by teams from Australia, England, Ireland and New Zealand.

More than half said they drank alcohol during the first trimester, with 15 per cent reporting that they had more than seven drinks a week.

Dr LeWine said: “Rates of premature birth, babies with low birth weight or small size, and pre-eclampsia were similar across the alcohol consumption categories.”

However, guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) continue to warn against alcohol consumption in early pregnancy and beyond.

Community midwife Sarah Ross, who is based in Birmingham, said: “NICE recommends that alcohol should be avoided during the first three months due to increased risk of miscarriage. So this is the advice we give.

“As it is unclear how much alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy, the safest approach is to avoid alcohol altogether.”

Sarah added that women who have drunk alcohol before realising they are pregnant should try not to worry. “All we can do is reassure them that the risk of harm to the baby is low,” she said. “We don’t want to scare women about something that is out of their control.”

Also read: 6 Pregnancy Myths That Are Based In Fact