Pregnant women and alcohol

Think non-alcoholic or low-alcohol drinks are safe to imbibe during your pregnancy? A new study released in the Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology claims otherwise.

The problem with non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic beverages

Most women have been told about the merits of abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy; alcohol consumption may, tests show, harm a developing fetus. As a result, many women turn to non- or low-alcoholic beverages once they learn they’re pregnant. For years, it was thought imbibing such beverages was safe.

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Now, a new study from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), has found that unborn babies aren’t safe from harm even with no- or low-alcohol drinks. For the study, scientists tested the ethanol (alcohol) concentration of 45 different drinks available in Canada that claimed to contain no or low alcohol. What they found was shocking: 19 of the 45 beverages contained alcohol levels higher than what was actually labeled on the bottle.

“The results are very concerning. Women may think they are on safe ground when in fact they are consuming alcohol,” says Dr Gideon Koren, principal investigator of the study, director of the Motherisk Program, senior scientist at SickKids and professor of pediatrics, pharmacology, and pharmacy. “The bigger concern is for those women who are consuming large amounts of these products regularly.”

An additional concern is that many of these drinks can be purchased at a grocery store in large quantities without ID, and most don’t have warning labels about the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.

Should you be worried?

While a lot of research shows consuming alcohol during pregnancy can harm the development of a fetus, it’s not exactly known how much alcohol is too much when it comes to you and your baby’s health during pregnancy.

On top of that, current regulations in many countries do not recommend complete abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy. In fact, a 2008 study by the University College London found light drinking while pregnant will not harm a fetus nor a child’s long-term development. The study reported that children born to women who consume one to two drinks per week (or per occasion) are not at an increased risk of behavioral difficulties (even when compared to children of abstinent mothers). If that’s the case, is the alcohol level in non- or low-alcoholic beverages something you should be concerned about at all?

Advice to all moms-to-be

The best idea, instead of abstaining from alcohol or cutting back on how much you already drink, is to speak with your doctor. Bring this information with you and write down your list of questions regarding alcohol and pregnancy. Your doctor can then offer you a wealth of information to guide you in your decision. Also, be sure to speak with your partner about the subject. Some cultures are more liberal than others when it comes to the idea of drinking while pregnant.

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