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Alcohol, pregnancy and breast-feeding

Women and Alcohol

If you drink when you are pregnant, alcohol passes through your bloodstream and into the fetus. Alcohol can affect how the fetus develops. There is no known safe amount you can drink when you’re pregnant to prevent this harm. But the more heavily you drink, the more you’re likely:

  • to lose the baby (have a miscarriage or a baby that is stillborn)
  • to have a baby that is very small (underweight)
  • to have a baby born early (premature)
  • to have a baby with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) which can involve brain damage, slow growth, vision and hearing problems, and other birth defects. People whose mothers drank during pregnancy can have lifelong learning and memory problems.

The chance of harming the fetus is affected by how much you drink, whether you are also using other drugs, your overall health and safety, and many other factors.

For information about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, call Motherisk’s Alcohol and Substance Use Helpline at 1 877 FAS-INFO (1 877 327-4636).

It’s safest not to drink when you’re pregnant. Less is better. None is best!

There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. The brain and nervous system of the fetus develop all through pregnancy. But it is never too late to stop drinking during pregnancy. Quitting drinking now and looking after your own health are the best ways to ensure your baby is healthy.

The father’s drinking may affect his sperm. No one knows yet what effect this may have on the fetus or the baby. The father’s drinking can affect you too. It may be harder for you not to drink, or to drink very little, if your partner is drinking heavily.

There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. The brain and nervous system of the fetus develop all through pregnancy. But it is never too late to stop drinking during pregnancy. Quitting drinking now and looking after your own health are the best ways to ensure your baby is healthy.

The father’s drinking may affect his sperm. No one knows yet what effect this may have on the fetus or the baby. The father’s drinking can affect you too. It may be harder for you not to drink, or to drink very little, if your partner is drinking heavily.

Breast-feeding

Breast-feeding is one of the best things you can do for your baby. But a little bit of any alcohol you drink passes into your breast milk. People disagree about the amount that can cause problems. It depends on how much and when you drink. Anything more than an occasional drink is not recommended.

If you drink regularly and breast-feed, that can affect how well the baby reacts to the world around him or her (this is called “psychomotor development”). Heavy drinking can also affect your “letdown”—the flow of milk into your nipples so the baby can feed.

If you do drink alcohol before you breast-feed, your baby may not drink as much of your milk, and he or she may sleep more often, but for a shorter time. How long the alcohol will stay in the breast milk depends on factors such as how many drinks you have, how quickly you drink, and your body weight.

So, if you do drink, plan to feed your baby first. If you have a drink right after you breast-feed, your body has more time to get rid of the alcohol before the next feeding time.

Talk with your doctor about the risks to your baby’s health before you decide what to do. And remember: it’s not just your baby’s health that’s a concern, it’s yours too.

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