Discovering that you are pregnant can be exciting and happy news. But it can also be a worrying time, especially if you drink more than you want to.
You’ll probably already know that drinking alcohol while pregnant is risky for you and your baby. But the well-meaning advice to “just stop” is not always easy to put into practice.
Pregnancy isn’t a magical switch that turns off your cravings for alcohol. And you may still find yourself triggered to think about drinking in all sorts of situations. So if you’re a regular drinker and you’ve just discovered you are pregnant, you will need a realistic plan to stop as quickly and safely as possible. And you’ll want to think about how you’ll stay alcohol-free throughout your pregnancy, and maybe beyond it too.
Stopping safely if you are pregnant
If you regularly drink over half a bottle of spirits, 1.5 bottles of wine, 3 cans of super lager or 2 litres of strong cider every day, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible, because you may be physically dependent on alcohol.
If you are dependent on alcohol, stopping suddenly can expose you to the risk of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some milder withdrawal symptoms, like sweating, shakes, nausea and anxiety, tend to resolve themselves after four to five days. But if you experience more severe symptoms, such as seizures, fits, hallucinations or confusion, you should seek medical help urgently. Anything that compromises your health risks the health of your baby too.
So do talk to your doctor or midwife about your drinking. It’s important to be honest when you talk to them. They’re not there to judge you. The health of you and your baby will be their top priority, and rest assured that you won’t be the first pregnant person who needs support to stop drinking safely. Most people can get to being alcohol-free by cutting down gradually over a number of days. Your doctor or midwife can help you make the right decisions for you.
Alcohol-free choices when you’re expecting
Being pregnant will change a lot of things, but you will still want to spend time with friends, relax at home and celebrate. All of the occasions on which you previously drank alcohol are opportunities to find alcohol-free alternatives.
One of the most straightforward ways to change your drinking when you’re pregnant is to swap alcoholic drinks for alcohol-free alternatives. Your choices are not limited to fruit juice and sugary soft drinks. Alcohol-free beers, wines and spirits can make it easier to stick to your plans to avoid alcohol while you’re pregnant.
Understanding exactly what counts as alcohol-free is important. Labelling laws and regulations vary around the world, but the international consensus is that any drinks with 0.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) or below are regarded as alcohol-free.
Should you worry about this trace amount of alcohol during pregnancy? Probably not, and it’s important to put the issue into perspective. Many everyday foodstuffs that aren’t considered alcoholic, like sourdough bread and ripe bananas, contain alcohol. And your own digestive tract generates measurable amounts of alcohol every day, just by processing the food you eat.
Ultimately, you’ll want to make decisions that are right for you, and our review of evidence on pregnancy and drinking alcohol-free drinks will help you consider your options.
Whatever you decide to drink instead of alcohol, the most important thing is to make plans you can stick to. Being pregnant may stop people from offering you a drink, but it doesn’t protect you from all your other triggers for drinking. So it’s a good idea to plan ahead for situations when other people will be consuming alcohol. Choose venues that have good alcohol-free options, opt for drinks you actually enjoy drinking and plan for social events so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.
Support to stop while pregnant and beyond
Many members of the Club Soda community will tell you how good life can be once you’ve stopped drinking. For some, the only time they’d stopped previously was when they were pregnant. But many of them have now made being alcohol-free a permanent lifestyle choice.
Taking a break while you’re pregnant can give you a new perspective on your drinking habits. You don’t have to just press the pause button. Instead, this might be a moment to make lasting changes.
So rather than focusing on what you are giving up, consider all the upsides that come with being alcohol-free: more energy, better sleep, greater focus and no hangovers. Notice if not drinking starts to change the quality of your relationships too. Your loved ones might want to stop drinking to support you. They certainly wouldn’t be the first!
And beyond your immediate family and friends, reach out for support in the Club Soda community. Even if you decide just to quit while you’re pregnant, you are very welcome to join us. And Club Soda’s online course, How to Stop Drinking, can help too, with 31 step-by-step lessons supporting you to create and sustain an alcohol-free life.