The Next Round: What happens after you change your drinking?

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Marcus Barnes supporting a pregnant partner

Alcohol and supporting a pregnant partner

This November we are focusing on issues surrounding men and alcohol. We have invited Marcus Barnes to write a series of articles tackling some of these topics. Marcus is an author, journalist and copywriter. He has almost two decades of writing experience across a broad range of topics. He’s written three books and has a book on sobriety in the pipeline. In his third piece for Club Soda, Marcus shares his experience of mindful drinking and the role that played in supporting his pregnant partner. You may also like to read his two earlier pieces about mental health and becoming a parent, and finding his feet with socialising sober.

Pregnancy and drinking

Pregnancy might be the only time in some women’s lives where they curb their drinking for a prolonged period. Medical advice today makes it quite clear that drinking, even in moderation, has the potential to harm the unborn child. For men it can be a little bit different. The obvious health implications for your little bump are not as pertinent for guys during the nine-month term, however some men do go sober when they’re trying for a baby, in order to increase their chances of conceiving.

During pregnancy it’s at the discretion of the couple to make a decision about how the man will adapt to the new situation. Questions can arise about whether he really needs to quit altogether to support his pregnant partner, or whether he can moderate, or just carry on as normal. Of course, this is completely down to what the couple decides and there are no hard and fast rules. Here I’ll talk you through what I did and how it worked out for me/us, along with some information and advice for men who are either planning to have a baby or already have a pregnant partner. 

Why I chose to stop drinking when we were expecting our baby

When we found out we were expecting I’d been off the wagon for a crazy summer of drinking adventures after being sober for 18 months. It was October 2018. I went sober in February 2017 and, though it was a monumental challenge, found it to be enlightening and rewarding. I learned so much about myself. My job involves spending a lot of time in clubs and at festivals, which was a total baptism of fire, but it helped me to learn quickly how to be sober in those situations. I knew we were going to Burning Man (the fourth time for me), a temporary desert-based community event in the States. It’s a very permissive gathering where people do all kinds of mind-expanding things, so I decided to take myself off the wagon in anticipation of this week of excess. 

“I think it made the whole process more intimate, as we not only shared the anticipation of our little bump arriving, but a shared commitment to mindful drinking”

A couple of months after we got back, we found out we were expecting. Great news. My other half was understanding enough to avoid putting pressure on me to quit again but I had already decided that I would stop, based on my experience of that first 18-month stint. She actually had the odd drink here and there but, for the most part, was teetotal for the whole nine months and I accompanied her on that journey for seven of those months, quitting the day after her birthday party on December 16th 2018. 

Alcohol and supporting a pregnant partner

Supporting your partner into motherhood

Making that decision felt like the right thing to do and I think it made the whole process more intimate as we not only shared the anticipation of our little bump arriving, but a shared commitment to mindful drinking. I could not have just carried on drinking through that period, and I know that hormonal changes often mean that women are a lot more sensitive to smell – especially alcohol for some. I didn’t want to be coming home stinking of booze, it felt unfair and disloyal. Not only that but you could end up making your pregnant partner feel resentful or jealous that you’re still able to carry on doing what you want.

Trivial as that may sound, the process of becoming a mother can be a difficult transition and a myriad challenging emotions can arise as the woman loses aspects of her individual identity. Being sensitive to this transition is key to keeping her mood upbeat and helping her ease into motherhood. Don’t forget the social aspect too, as a couple you may still be going out and meeting friends, or anywhere people are consuming alcohol. It can be way less isolating for a pregnant woman when their partner is also sober. 

What risks does alcohol pose to your pregnant partner?

Frances Ann, development manager at FARE (Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education), raises awareness for foetal alcohol syndrome disorder via the Pregnancy Pause campaign. “There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and research has shown that many women are more likely to avoid alcohol when their partners do too,” she told Stuff in 2015. “We know that pressure to drink is all around us, alcohol has never been more readily available, cheaper or more aggressively marketed. By not drinking, you’re making it easier for your partner to not drink as well.”

“Communication is essential, what do both of you need?”

It’s a sticky subject though with so many men and women seeing drinking as a right, part of their identity and something that they should not be forced to give up. Mums sometimes agree and are happy for their husbands to continue drinking, with many users of Mumsnet saying they agreed their partner would start to wind down their drinking in the last few weeks of the pregnancy in case they needed to make an emergency dash to the hospital and a few even saying they weren’t fussed that their partner carried on. Each to their own, as I said, there are no strict rules, just whatever you’re comfortable with.

Communication is essential, what do you both of you need? Could limiting your alcohol consumption to weekends work? Or maybe every other day? Switching to alcohol-free beverages? The last thing you want is to feel forced into sobriety by your partner, it’s bound to go terribly wrong. At the same time being respectful of each other’s needs and checking in with each other at regular intervals can help to ensure both parties are satisfied and coping with the mental impact of impending parenthood. 

See it as an supportive opportunity

The best way to look at it is, this might be the only chance you ever get to try out sobriety for such a prolonged period. If you’re both doing it and you have the perfect excuse, you can support each other and you could end up surprised at how much you enjoy being off the booze for a bit. The happiness of both parents is of utmost importance during pregnancy but keeping mum buoyant and feeling good about herself takes priority so the baby gets all those good vibes, too. Quitting for nine months to give her moral support and the confidence to face all the challenges that impending motherhood presents is probably one of the best gifts you can give her. 

For me, quitting was a way to make a positive commitment to the mother of my child, to our bump and to myself. It’s not for every man I know, but it’s worth considering because it could just end up sparking an entirely new way of being, whether that’s a drastic reduction in your intake or stopping altogether.

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