As one of the most popular times in the year to get pregnant approaches, doctors are warning women hoping to conceive to watch their drinks over the festive period.
“Midwives often say Christmas and New Year is a time when many couples conceive and there could be many factors at play here. But it is important to remember is if you are trying for a baby or you are at risk of pregnancy, you really need to avoid alcohol completely,” said Dr Linda de Caestecker, NHSGGC’s Director of Public Health.
“There are several reasons for this. Firstly you want your body to be in the best shape possible to cope with a pregnancy and giving up alcohol is a great first step.
“The other is that by the time women discover they are pregnant – even those who are trying and looking out for the signs – the baby will have been developing in the womb for several weeks. The first 12 weeks are especially important as this is when a baby develops, so being alcohol-free is definitely recommended.
“If you are expecting a baby, you should not drink alcohol during the pregnancy”.
In September NHSGGC launched an information campaign - No alcohol, no alcohol harm - aimed at pregnant women and those thinking about having a baby, to highlight the risk of their child being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
For many years there have been mixed messages around drinking alcohol in pregnancy, but the campaign aimed to put the issue to bed once and for all.
The most conservative estimate is that 500 babies born in Scotland every year have been adversely affected by FASD. As well as posters and information materials in antenatal clinics, there will be additional training for midwives and social media channels will be used to help mums-to-be make healthy choices.
FASD is often associated with facial features such as small eyelid openings, short upturned noses and reduced sized heads, but it can also affect the heart and cause varying degrees of learning disabilities. It causes permanent, irreversible damage to a baby’s brain.
Unlike adults, babies in the womb have no capacity to metabolise alcohol, meaning it stays in their system longer than the mum’s, increasing the greater potential harm.
Linda added: “There are two ways to avoid alcohol harm to your baby: don’t drink while pregnant or if you’re not ready to give up alcohol, make sure you don’t get pregnant and are using an effective form of contraception.
“We need to be clear that FASD is a risk, not a certainty. If you had the odd drink before you know you were pregnant the risk will be small. But it’s also just kidding yourself on to believe drinking wine with dinner most nights doesn’t really count. The message is that the only way to guarantee your baby not being exposed to alcohol harm is to avoid alcohol completely.
“We want women to enjoy the festive period and hope those trying to conceive get the Christmas present they are hoping for! There are plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives available such as fruity mocktails or alcohol free wine or lager, so there is no reason to miss those Christmas parties.”
“We have seen many successful campaigns advising people not to drink and drive. Groups of friends or family going out often have a “designated driver” – someone who has agreed not to drink alcohol during the night out but drive others. This Christmas we are asking pregnant women to be their unborn baby’s “designated driver” during their pregnancy. By not drinking alcohol they are keeping their baby safe as others keep their friends and family safe.”
For more information please contact your midwife or other health professional.
For further information either telephone 0141 201 4429 or email [email protected]