Alcohol and pregnancy

Alcohol is a substance that is known to adversely affect foetal development and cause birth defects and brain damage in unborn babies.  Alcohol crosses the placenta freely and can be found in equivalent concentrations in foetal blood circulation to that of the mother.

Researchers do not know how much alcohol, if any, is safe to drink during pregnancy and there is also no safe time for consuming alcohol.  What they do know is the risk of damage to the baby increases the more you drink, and that binge drinking is especially harmful.

Even small amounts of alcohol may cause changes to the developing brain so abstinence is the safest choice for a healthy pregnancy.

Women and alcohol

Research has shown that alcohol affects women differently than men.

Higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC): If a man and a woman drink exactly the same amount of alcohol, the woman will almost always have a higher BAC. One reason is that a woman's body contains more fatty tissue and less water than a man's body and women are often smaller than men.

Health problems: Women may develop liver damage and other health problems at lower levels of alcohol consumption than men. Women who drink alcohol are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer and gynaecological problems than women who don't drink.

Hormonal differences: Some research suggests that a woman's reaction to alcohol may vary at different stages of her menstrual cycle, due to changes in hormone levels. Women who use the contraceptive pill may take longer to get rid of alcohol in their bodies than women who do not.

For all these reasons, health authorities recommend that women should drink less alcohol than men.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Alcohol consumed during pregnancy crosses the placenta to the baby. It can cause problems in pregnancy, such as bleeding, miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.

There is evidence to suggest that if a pregnant woman drinks two or more standard drinks a day the baby can be affected and grow more slowly. Babies born of women who are heavily dependent on alcohol can suffer from withdrawal symptoms after birth; have poor coordination and movement, and be diagnosed with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Babies with FAS may be born with facial defects and physical and intellectual disability.

The World Health Organisation suggests there is no safe level of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and recommends that the safest approach for pregnant women is not to consume any alcohol at all.

There is evidence to suggest that alcohol can change the smell of breast milk, reduce supply and have a mildly sedative effect on the baby. During the first twelve months of a baby's life, alcohol can cause damage to the developing brain. For women who are breastfeeding it is better to avoid consumption of alcohol as much as possible.

Treatment

See your doctor or other health professional if you are drinking while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Sources of information:

National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

DrugInfo Clearinghouse - Australian Drug Foundation 

Alcohol and Pregnancy information by Reach Out!

An initiative of the Inspire Foundation, Reach Out! is a web based service that provides information, support and interactive features to help young people get through tough times. Their website includes various fact sheets on alcohol and pregnancy.

http://au.reachout.com/

National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Australia's peak body representing parents, carers and others interested in, or affected by, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Their site provides information about alcohol and pregnancy.

http://www.nofasd.org.au/

Information about alcohol and pregnancy by the DrugInfo Clearinghouse

DrugInfo Clearinghouse is a service provided by the Australian Drug Foundation. It functions as a drug prevention network providing information about alcohol. other drugs, and drug prevention. Their information pages include resources on alcohol and pregnancy.

http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/fact-sheets/alcohol-other-drugs-and-pregnancy

Alcohol and pregnancy fact sheet by the Federal Department of Health

An alcohol information site has been developed by the Federal Department of Health. The site provides fact sheets on alcohol-related health issues and Australian Government policy. A link to their fact sheet about alcohol and pregnancy is provided.

http://www.alcohol.gov.au/internet/alcohol/publishing.nsf/Content/F6EF2D90BABB98E2CA257CD700296BD4/$File/FARE%20WWTK%20Consumer%20DL_v14.pdf

It might be difficult to approach someone you are concerned about to discuss their drinking.  They might be resistant to your approach and deny they have a problem. Ultimately the decision to address their problems is their own but there are some things you might consider before talking to them.

Be informed - It is a good idea to have a general knowledge of some of the reasons why people drink alcohol to excess, and how they can drink at a low risk level.

Discuss alcohol issues openly - Letting the person you are concerned about know that you are open to listening to them without being judgmental. This might encourage them to discuss their alcohol use with you knowing they won't be judged.

Talk about low risk drinking - Give the person you are concerned about information on low risk drinking.

Speak to a Counsellor yourself - Speaking with an organisation who specialises in alcohol issues and treatment might be helpful for working out the best approach on how to address your concerns.

Reference - Reach Out! website 

alcohol.gov.au - Federal Department of Health

This alcohol info site has been developed by the Federal Department of Health. The site provides info and fact sheets about alcohol-related health issues and Australian Government policy.

http://www.alcohol.gov.au/internet/alcohol/publishing.nsf/Content/home

DrugInfo Clearinghouse - Australian Drug Foundation

DrugInfo Clearinghouse is a service provided by the Australian Drug Foundation. It functions as a drug prevention network providing information about alcohol, other drugs, and drug prevention.

http://druginfo.adf.org.au/

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