In 2016, the UK Chief Medical Officer published its guidance on low risk drinking. Within this guidance, there was specific advice on drinking in pregnancy. The recommendation took a precautionary stance, stating the simplest advice was to avoid alcohol in pregnancy to be certain there was no harm caused to the unborn baby. This was largely informed by evidence-based research into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), which include facial abnormalities, restricted growth, learning and behavioural disorders in addition to the risk of pre-term delivery and stillbirth. It is also recommended to avoid alcohol in the important developmental first trimester.
This national health advice takes a precautionary stance as there is no evidence of a safe limit of alcohol in pregnancy and heavy or ‘binge’ drinking was the main focus.
Is it reasonable to assume therefore, that small amounts of alcohol, in moderation, carry less risk? Well, that decision must be an individual one with all of the current advice considered and ‘zero alcohol = zero risk’ is obviously the simplest solution to this question.
Alcohol-free wines and beers have flooded the market in recent years and are palatable enough to enable women to enjoy a ‘toast’ at a celebration or join in the Christmas and New Year festivities. They are not however truly free of alcohol as the process used, either heating or filtering the alcohol, still leaves the product with an average alcohol content of 0.05%. This is arguably, a miniscule amount and is unlikely to cause any effect on the developing fetus, but as previously stated there is currently no research which determines a safe level in pregnancy.
Of course, it’s not just pregnant women who may need to avoid imbibing some Christmas cheer, your Private Midwife is likely to be on-call at some point over the festive period so a glass or two of 0.05% prosecco may be just the ticket! I think I’ll be buying a bottle of alcohol-free plonk to enjoy with my Christmas dinner ?
The important thing, as with all choices, is to know the facts and make an informed decision that is right for you.
However you choose to celebrate your pregnant Christmas or New Year with your family, I hope you enjoy yourself and stay safe. If you have any concerns about drinking in pregnancy, please speak to your midwife.