Dr. Katherine Hartmann is Vice President for Research Integration at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) USA, and is associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Scientist Development and Deputy Director at the Institute for Medicine & Public Health. She is only a handful of researchers in the world who leads studies focused on early pregnancy. She has continuously been enrolling participants in her studies since 2000 and now includes more than 5,000 completed pregnancies. One of her studies focuses on how alcohol use around the time of conception and in early pregnancy influences adverse pregnancy outcomes such as miscarriage, poor foetal growth, and preterm birth.
Dr Hartmann says “Abstaining from alcohol around conception or during pregnancy has long been advised for many reasons, including preventing foetal alcohol syndrome. Nonetheless, modest levels of consumption are often seen as likely to be safe.”
However, in one of her recent studies she found that each week a woman consumes alcohol during the first five to 10 weeks of pregnancy is associated with an incremental 8% increase in risk of miscarriage. The findings, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, examines the timing, amount and type of alcohol use during pregnancy and how these factors relate to miscarriage risk before 20 weeks’ gestation. Impact of alcohol use rises through the ninth week of pregnancy, and risk accrues regardless of whether a woman reported having fewer than one drink or more than four drinks each week. Risk is also independent of the type of alcohol consumed and whether the woman had episodes of binge drinking.
The study indicated that average gestational age for stopping alcohol use was 29 days. Although 41% of women who changed their use did so within three days of a positive pregnancy test, those who stopped consumption near their missed period had a 37% greater risk of miscarriage compared to women who did not use alcohol.
Every time you have a drink of alcohol during your pregnancy, you share it with your unborn baby and outside of the risks of miscarriage further research indicated that drinking on a regular basis may be harmful.
Alcohol quickly reaches babies across the placenta. It enters a baby’s bloodstream at around the same levels of concentration present in the mothers blood, but it takes babies twice as long to expel it from their system as their liver is not mature until the last half of pregnancy.
Research indicates that drinking over two units of alcohol a day (2 x small glasses of wine, a pint of beer/lager) means a baby is more likely to have problems with learning, speech, attention span, language, and hyperactivity. These harmful effects are known as Foetal Alcohol Effects (FAE).
Drinking over six units of alcohol a day (6 x small glasses of wine, a pint of beer/lager) during pregnancy, puts mothers at risk of having a baby with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). This severe condition causes children to suffer from mental and growth retardation, behavioural problems, and facial and heart defects.
Drinking a lot in a single occasion (sometimes called binge drinking) is especially harmful.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all if you are pregnant or if you think you could become pregnant.
Lots of pregnancies aren’t planned, so you might not have known you were pregnant for a while and may have been drinking alcohol in that time. The first and most important thing you can do now is to stop drinking alcohol completely.
However, for lots of women, stopping drinking when pregnant can be difficult - sometimes harder than they thought. The social pressure to have a drink can also be huge and can make it harder to say no. Some women know they are drinking too much but don't feel able to talk about it. It's easy to feel guilty or ashamed because you know you shouldn’t be drinking alcohol in pregnancy.
If you’re trying to conceive, it is also safest not to drink
Alcohol doesn’t cause problems only once you are pregnant. There is evidence that alcohol can affect fertility in both men and women so stopping drinking if you are trying for a baby is also advised. However, stopping on your own can be difficult, and you may need help. With the right support and a bit of planning, you can do it.
The staff at Help Me Stop have all had problems with drugs or alcohol in the past, so we know first-hand how easy it is for your drinking and use of drugs to get out of hand. Equally we know, as psychotherapists, and through life experience how to beat it. As one of our former clients says we have a programme that helps you deal with your drug and alcohol issues and "deal with real life on life’s terms".
Help Me Stop offers a free assessment, which we can do face to face or online. We also offer range of effective, intensive face to face and online programmes to address alcohol and drug use. Call us now on 0208 191 9174 or jump onto Live Chat/email us directly at https://helpmestop.org.uk/contact-us
Chris Cordell is Help Me Stop's General Manager and is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine and a member of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals.
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