Alcohol: Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
I'm pregnant. Can I drink alcohol?
Unfortunately, we do not know whether one drink or several drinks will cause harm to your baby. We advise you to stop drinking alcohol completely until your baby arrives.
Evidence has shown that consuming alcohol in large amounts, or binge drinking, can increase the risk of a baby developing abnormalities. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a term used to describe the effects on a person when alcohol consumption occurred during pregnancy. FASD is known to effect around 1% of the Canadian population. Research has shown that drinking during pregnancy is associated with preterm labour and small for gestational age babies.
Your placenta is a highly specialized organ that functions as the main route to give your baby oxygen and nutrition as well as to expel waste products and carbon dioxide. It supports your baby’s growth and development as well as providing protection against infections and disease; however, this means anything you consume, solid or liquid, will pass to your baby very quickly through the placenta. Alcohol can have a longer affect on your baby than it can on you!
The term FASD is used to describe three different ranges of harm to a baby caused by drinking alcohol prenatally:
- Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
- Partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS)
- Alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND)
Unfortunately, these conditions can cause permanent and devastating long-term effects like growth restriction, facial abnormalities, irreversible brain damage, anxiety and depression, and cause the person to have difficulties with social interactions and relationships as well as other aspects of their life.
I didn't know I was pregnant when consuming alcohol
If you have just found out you are pregnant, it is likely that your baby will be unharmed if you consumed alcohol before you were aware. The evidence for the potentially harmful effects of light or occasional drinking in pregnancy is limited, which is why abstinence is recommended.
I need help to quit alcohol, where should I go?
You can talk to your midwife about finding help locally. Here is a resource that could be of assistance:
Drug and Alcohol Helpline – 1-800-565-8603 – offers free and confidential information
I've had my baby. Can I drink now?
If you are breastfeeding your baby, the recommendations are different then when you were pregnant. The former website “SickKids” based in Toronto’s Mt. Sinai hospital, stated in 2019 that the risks of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding were not well defined. Some sources advise you to avoid alcohol while breastfeeding, while other sources, such as Dr. Jack Newman (a breastfeeding specialist in Toronto) states that reasonable amounts of alcohol consumed occasionally are generally safe.
In all cases, it is no longer recommended to “pump and dump” your breast milk after consuming alcohol, as this does not accelerate the elimination of alcohol from the bloodstream.
If you choose to drink, it is recommended that you have no more than 14 units (drinks) per week, and it is best to spread out your drinks evenly. Where possible, avoid breastfeeding for at least two hours after consuming a drink. Regular drinking while breastfeeding could affect your baby’s development, but this is not well documented. You should not bed-share with your baby if you have been drinking, as the alcohol will affect your natural reflexes.
- The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada Position Statement (2020) and Guideline No. 405 Screening and Counselling for Alcohol Consumption During Pregnancy (2020)
- The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists UK (2018) – https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-alcohol-and-pregnancy.pdf
- British Medical Journal – https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/7/e015410
- Dr Jack Newman – breastfeeding and alcohol. Click here and here.
- La Leche League – breastfeeding and alcohol