Is low-alcohol wine or light beer safe during pregnancy?

Obstetrician gynaecologist Dr Kim Sonntag says she’s often asked the question: “Is a small glass of wine at the end of my pregnancy ok?” or “Is a low alcohol wine or light beer safe?”

“The easiest answer is no, but the real answer is that we just don’t know. There has been little research done in this area and a precise dose-response effect cannot be estimated. I would definitely not recommend it in the first trimester, when the foetus is undergoing development of its central nervous system, but would be reluctant to condone it at any point in the pregnancy,” she says.

Here are 8 more reasons why it would be best to wait until after baby’s birth before enjoying that glass of wine:

Drinking during pregnancy can lead to foetal alcohol syndrome

South Africa has the highest recorded rate of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in the world, with rates as high as 28% in some communities, according to the Western Cape Government foetal alcohol syndrome awareness programme. “It’s estimated that our country’s overall rate is at least 6%. Even though FAS is completely preventable, there’s no cure for this irreversible lifelong condition.”

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If you drink at any time during your pregnancy, the alcohol can affect your baby. Here are some reasons why:

  • Drinking alcohol is potentially most harmful to your baby in the first three months of pregnancy, when it is linked to miscarriage and birth abnormalities.
  • Alcohol crosses from your bloodstream through the placenta into your baby’s blood. How a baby will be affected depends on how much the mother drinks and at what point in her pregnancy.
  • Damage to the organs and nervous system of your baby through heavy drinking is most likely to happen in the first three months, because your baby’s liver does not mature until the second half of pregnancy so it cannot process alcohol as well as you can.
  • Drinking in early pregnancy increases the risk of premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Drinking in the second half of your pregnancy can affect how your baby grows and develops, as well as after he is born.
  • Drinking heavily (more than six units a day) throughout pregnancy can cause your baby to develop a serious condition called foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
  • The effects of FAS include restricted growth, development delays, low IQ, brain damage, facial abnormalities, and learning, social and behavioural disorders.
  • Binge drinking, or regularly drinking over the recommended level, may be associated with lesser forms of FAS. The risk is likely to be greater the more you drink.

Experts are still unsure about exactly how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy, so the best approach is not to drink at all while you are expecting.

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