Should pregnant and breastfeeding women be drinking alcohol?
It’s the debate that pops into the news every couple of months – should pregnant or breastfeeding women drink alcohol? According to the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) alcohol guidelines, the answer is no. These Australian guidelines say that the safest option for pregnant or breastfeeding women is to avoid alcohol completely, as maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing foetus or breastfeeding baby. But surely the odd glass of wine here or there won’t do any harm? Well, you just can’t be 100 percent certain, as the level of risk to the foetus or breastfeeding baby if the mother drinks alcohol is individual. Sure, we know that the risk is highest when maternal alcohol intake is high and frequent, but there remains uncertainty about the potential for harm to the foetus or breastfeeding baby if the mother drinks low levels of alcohol during pregnancy or while she is breastfeeding. While the risk appears to be lower with a low intake of alcohol, it isn’t possible to determine how maternal and foetal factors will alter the risk in each individual. This is why Australian alcohol guidelines say that not drinking is the safest option.
But we all know an inked guideline doesn’t necessarily mean automatic adherence. In fact, Australian research in 2013 found that eight in ten pregnant women consume alcohol. While the study didn’t say how many drinks the expectant mothers were consuming, it is evident that more education is needed. With NHMRC changing the alcohol guidelines for pregnant and breastfeeding women from abstaining in 1992, to light alcohol consumption in 2001 and then back to abstaining in 2009, it’s understandable why there is confusion around the acceptable level of alcohol consumption when pregnant or breastfeeding. Varying recommendations from health professionals also add to the confusion. Then of course there are family and friends that continue to offer pregnant and breastfeeding women a glass of vino to make them feel “included” during social functions, as if they are missing out on something amazing. But is skipping a tipple really that big of a deal?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a glass of bubbly as much as the next woman, but I just don’t understand why it appears to be such a big sacrifice to give up alcohol for a couple of years. Look at the amazing gift at the end of it! My gift arrived three months ago – a gorgeous baby boy called Jack, so I’ve experienced first hand being at social functions where alcohol is the centre of the get-together. When I was pregnant and I declined the offer of a glass of wine, comments of “a small glass won’t hurt” or “it’s ok to have one” would follow. Fast forward to breastfeeding and I am questioned as to why I haven’t cracked open a bottle of champers from my wine rack, as if I should be clawing to pop the cork as soon as the labour was over. The thing is, it’s my choice not to drink and I don’t think I really need to justify that choice every time I decline a drink. I will however, give you some insight into why I choose not to drink while I’m breastfeeding.
As a new mum, I value my sleep and want maximum energy to get everything I need done. Alcohol isn’t in line with those values. As a working mum, my expressed breast milk is liquid gold that I won’t sacrifice for just a drink. But most of all, I want to give Jack the absolutely best start I can to his life. He will have many years to make his own choices about what he will and will not put into his body, but right now I get to make the choices for him. I, along with my husband, get to surround Jack with a healthy lifestyle, nutritious foods and plenty of activity, which he will hopefully continue when he gets to make his own choices. Then I can really crack open the champagne and celebrate.
What do you think about alcohol consumption during pregnancy / breastfeeding?