The last few weeks have revealed some myth busting news about eating and drinking while pregnant.

First was the news that fish might not be bad for you during pregnancy after all, in fact it has been suggested there are many developmental benefits conferred by the mother consuming fish while pregnant that may offset the mercury-related risks that previously removed the swimming-food from the menu.

But just as something may be being added to the menu, something else has been removed. For pregnant women, the latter pages of the menu or the wine list will not be recommended dinner-time reading.

As you may have guessed, another myth that has been busted is the fallacy that it is safe to drink a couple of glasses of wine in the early stages of pregnancy. As there is no proven safe amount of alcohol for a pregnant woman to consume, guidelines from The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) now state that women trying for a baby and those in the first 3 months of pregnancy should not drink any alcohol at all.

Changing Advice

The RCOG had previously said a couple of glasses of wine a week were acceptable. It now says abstinence is the only way to be certain that the baby is not harmed. Philippa Marsden, of the RCOG, said: “For women planning a family, it is advisable not to drink during this time. Either partner drinking heavily can make it more difficult to conceive.”

“During early pregnancy, the safest approach is to abstain from alcohol and after the first trimester keep within the recommended amounts if you do decide to have an alcohol drink. The same applies for women who decide to breastfeed.”

She added: “If you cut down or stop drinking at any point during pregnancy, it can make a difference to your baby. However, in some instances, once the damage has been done, it cannot be reversed. If you have any questions or concerns about alcohol consumption talk to your midwife, GP or health visitor who can offer support and advice.”

The Risks

Drinking alcohol while pregnant may affect the unborn baby as some will pass through the placenta and around conception alongside the risk that within the first three months it may increase the chance of miscarriage. After this time, women are advised not to drink more than 1-2 units, twice a week.

Dr Simon Newell, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “There are lots of mixed messages when it comes to alcohol advice so today’s guidance is a welcome and reliable source of information for women who are thinking about trying for a baby and for women who have already become pregnant.”

He added: “It is impossible to say what constitutes a safe amount of alcohol a mother can drink as every pregnancy is different, so our advice to mothers is don’t take a chance with your baby’s health and drink no alcohol at all.” Dr Newell furthered this point when by revealing around 6,000 babies a year in the UK are born with some form of damage as a direct result of alcohol.

Unplanned

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, is concerned that the new advice may be interpreted in the wrong way. She said: “This guidance takes a precautionary approach to women drinking alcohol in pregnancy. It may be wise to avoid alcohol when planning a baby, but the fact is many pregnancies are not planned.”

“We should reassure women that if they have had an episode of binge drinking before they found out they were pregnant, they really should not worry. It is very troubling to see women so concerned about the damage they have caused their baby they consider ending what would otherwise be a wanted pregnancy, when there’s no need for such anxiety.”

She added: “This guidance also makes clear that after the first three months, there is no evidence of harm to the baby at low levels of alcohol, so women who like to relax with a glass of wine once or twice a week should not feel guilty about doing so.”

When it comes to balancing up your choices, it is best to take any risks out of the equation. If you are trying for a baby and are worried that the amount of alcohol you or your partner consumes could be excessive, you could have an alcohol test for a more impartial and comprehensive overview of consumption levels. This may help you to make a decision as to whether the current intake consumed suggests a need for further guidance before trying for a baby.

All this new advice might be bad news for people who drink like they have gills, but at least pregnant sushi-lovers have had some good news with the possibility of fish returning to the prenatal menu. Professor Philip Davidson, principle investigator of the Seychelles child development study said: “It appears that the relationship between fish nutrients and mercury may be far more complex than previously appreciated. These findings indicate that there may be an optimal balance between the different inflammatory properties of fatty acids that promote fetal development and that these mechanisms warrant further study.”

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