Pregnant pause: should I stop drinking while I’m expecting?
Solicit advice from other mums and Dr Google and you’ll get any number of wildly varying opinions
Two days after I found out I was pregnant, I was sent on an all-expenses press trip to Las Vegas (I’m not even remotely ashamed at this humongous brag-bomb, by the way. These trips happen around once a year; besides, I take them as a sort of cosmic payback for short deadlines and even shorter Twitter trolls).
This was the sort of trip where drinks are proffered regularly: it being Vegas, drinking was pretty much scheduled on the halfhour. Once I got to my aircraft seat, I was immediately handed a glass of champagne. Everyone else sat back, guzzled away and settled down to a binge of Big Little Lies, but I found myself at a whole new fork in the road. It’s totally conceivable that I might have found out I was pregnant after the trip, and what would a couple of days make in the scheme of things?
I held the champagne glass to my face, letting the bubbles tickle my nose. And then something very unusual happened. A sort of deep down, primal feeling came out of nowhere. Guilt, I think it was. Having to think of someone other than myself, maybe. A small wave of protectiveness bubbled inside me. My first taste of something vaguely maternal. And so I switched to juice and watched avariciously as everyone else chose their own bottle of red wine for dinner.
Reader, it was the longest four-day junket of my life. By day three, I had snapped during a cocktail-making class. I fled to my room and sulked while I watched The Handmaid’s Tale. Be among my own people and all that.
But thoughts soon turned to the window of time in between becoming pregnant and actually knowing I was pregnant. There were the few celebratory whiskies on the night of the Eighth Amendment referendum. The day of the royal wedding, where I spent noon until night riotously sloshed on Pimm’s and Prosecco at a friend’s house. The weekend in London, where I spent the day meeting separate strands of friends for drinks.
Yet, many women will drink in the very early stages of pregnancy, often without knowing they are expecting. According to Pat O’Brien, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK, alcohol consumption in those very first few weeks carries little to no risk. “It tends to have all or nothing effect,” he is quoted as saying in the Daily Telegraph. “It either tends to cause a miscarriage then and there. If it doesn’t, there tends to not be any effect with an ongoing pregnancy.”
He also notes that fetal alcohol syndrome – a condition that causes developmental problems and deformities for some children exposed to alcohol in the womb – is typically associated with women who drink heavily throughout their pregnancy. It is believed that 80 per cent of women in Ireland and the UK drink some alcohol during their pregnancy, whether or not to drink alcohol during pregnancy has become a massively contentious hot potato.
There’s also something vaguely paternalistic about the conversation around alcohol and pregnancy, as is very often the case with expectant mums and their lifestyle choices. For some reason, the world loves nothing more than to monitor women’s behaviour in pregnancy.
Solicit advice from other mums, and you’re likely to come up against a number of wildly varying opinions. “I’d never do that,” noted one. “If anything went wrong with the baby, I’d only blame myself.”
Said another: “I had one glass of high-quality red wine on the weekend, mainly so I wouldn’t go mad.”
Another quoted a very eminent Irish gynaecologist, who noted that “one gin and tonic a day” was fine, as it acted as a de-stresser.
While most healthcare professionals agree that an intake of zero is the safest for a baby, you’ll find a study that will say otherwise if you spend enough time in the company of Dr Google. A 2017 study by Bristol University found the effects of two glasses of wine a week was associated with a 10 per cent increased risk of premature birth. Another study carried out by psychologist Janni Niclasen at the University of Copenhagen posited that a glass or two of wine a week is not only considered safe, it could help produce happier, more well-adjusted children.
Me, I’m taking the middle road, and enjoying a very occasional glass of red wine at home (friends have reported experiencing various cases of side-eye when they are spotted drinking even non-alcoholic beer in a pub).
I know I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to say that not drinking has become one of the hardest parts of this pregnancy. But the truth is that after 20 years of carrying on to my liking, and socialising four or five times a week, it has been a huge adjustment. Worse, I went sober during our glorious heatwave, when all I wanted was to horse into a crisp bottle of white wine.
I doubt I’ll ever be one of those women who cheerfully takes the personal sacrifices involved in pregnancy on the chin. But nursing cranberry juice in the pub, being around hearty drinkers, trying to find another way to blot out bad feelings – I won’t lie, all of it has been a struggle (first trimester tiredness often negates the perks of a hangover-free week).
Above all else, it’s as sure a sign as any that life as I’ve known it is slowly but inexorably ebbing away. A new, different type of life is just visible on the horizon.
Drier, but one, hopefully, with a different type of adventure involved.
Tanya Sweeney: “It’s as sure a sign as any that life as I’ve known it is slowly but inexorably ebbing away. A new, different type of life is just visible on the horizon.”