Alcohol and smoking in pregnancy

The best advice is that pregnant women, or women trying to conceive, should avoid drinking alcohol. If you smoke, you should also give up. There is lots of help available to help you quit.

Medical guidelines

The current medical guidelines are that:

  • if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum
  • drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk

Trying to conceive

If you are trying to get pregnant, you need to be aware that drinking alcohol can reduce your fertility and ability to conceive. Excessive drinking, especially getting drunk, can lead to a miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy.

To keep the risks to an absolute minimum therefore, the safest approach is not to drink at all.

Alcohol guidelines - how much is a unit?

One UK unit contains eight grams (or 10 millilitres) of pure alcohol and it's the strength and size of a drink that determines how many units it has.

If you are pregnant

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the alcohol passes through the placenta and can affect the baby's development. This happens throughout the pregnancy, not just in the first few weeks.

Excessive drinking can lead to:

  • premature birth
  • low birth weight
  • impacting on the physical and mental development of the child, a condition known as Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Women are therefore strongly advised to not drink alcohol at all at any stage during pregnancy because there may be an increased risk of miscarriage. The current advice is to avoid alcohol completely.

Alcohol and breastfeeding

Alcohol passes to the baby in small amounts in breast milk. The milk will smell different to the baby and may affect their feeding, sleeping or digestion. The best advice is to avoid drinking shortly before a baby's feed.

Whether you're breastfeeding or not, the recommended benchmark is to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread evenly over three days or more because if you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, you increase your health risks.

GP advice

Your doctor, can help you to get advice and a referral to services for help with an alcohol or drug addiction problem.

Smoking

Smoking while pregnant not only damages your own health, but can also harm your baby.

It has been linked to a variety of health problems, including:

  • premature birth
  • low birth weight
  • cot death, miscarriage
  • breathing problems/ wheezing in the first six months of life

If you stop smoking, you will reduce the risk of harm to yourself and your baby.

Giving up smoking

If you're trying to give up smoking, also encourage those around you to do the same. Secondhand smoke contains poisonous gases, tar and toxic chemicals that are harmful to you and your baby's health.

Only you can decide to quit but you can get help and support to stay a non-smoker.

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