We’re having a baby! As soon as my partner found out, she decided to stop drinking completely. She says she doesn’t mind me drinking, but over the past couple of weeks, she’s been complaining that the smell of alcohol makes her feel sick. I’m wondering what the best thing to do is. Of course, I want to support my pregnant partner, but I don’t want to give up drinking. Any advice? Marvin
First of all, congratulations to you and your partner, Marvin. It’s amazing news, but I know it can be scary too. Some days it’s the most normal thing in the world, other days it melts your brain. You and your partner are going through a huge life change, and it’s brilliant that you want to support her.
It’s good news that your partner has stopped drinking. There’s no safe level of alcohol consumption if you’re pregnant. Because of this, many people will actually stop or cut down their drinking if they are trying to start a family. This is true for both parents, by the way; alcohol has a negative impact on fertility. But given the number of pregnancies that are unplanned and unexpected, lots of people are still drinking when they find out they are pregnant.
At this point, some people will worry that drinking in early pregnancy will have caused damage to their baby, exposing them to the risk of foetal alcohol syndrome. If your partner is worried, she should talk to her midwife or doctor. The good news is that stopping at any point during pregnancy reduces the risk, so the sooner the better.
Drinking around your pregnant partner
Many people find that their sense of smell changes when they are pregnant. One of the effects of increased levels of oestrogen is a more sensitive olfactory system. And the aroma of alcohol, whether it’s in drinks or perfumes, can become unbearable. Your partner isn’t alone in being sensitive to the smell of alcohol.
You say that you want to support your pregnant partner, so one option would be to not drink when you’re together. Would you want to go out and drink though? She might not appreciate you coming home smelling of booze. So it may be that a more fundamental rethink of your drinking is needed.
You don’t mention any personal difficulties with alcohol, aside from not wanting to give up. So quitting might seem like a radical suggestion. But I’d encourage you to think about it seriously. Taking a break from drinking has all sorts of benefits. And although drinking is common in our society, it’s not compulsory. Even for those of us who moderate our drinking, taking regular breaks is a good thing to do – and the longer the break, the better. You don’t need to have a problem with drinking to decide to stop.
If you recoil at the idea of stopping completely, it would be worth taking some time to reflect on why that is. Examine the role alcohol plays in your life. Do you really have a take-it-or-leave-it relationship with booze? Or has some of your drinking become an ingrained habit?
Start paying attention to the drinks you consciously want, compared to the drinks you don’t want, and the drinks that just happen. You might be surprised at what you notice.
Changing your drinking together
You could also use the next few months to discover some great new alcohol-free drinks. Pregnancy doesn’t have to mean missing out on beers, wines or even spirits, as long as you choose alcohol-free alternatives. While the smell of alcohol might make your partner feel sick, it’s unlikely that an alcohol-free beer, say, would have the same effect.
If your partner is getting through the next nine months on willpower alone, it could be a miserable experience for her. Stopping drinking in solidarity would certainly help her stick to being alcohol-free. But you could use the opportunity to explore your drinking habits as a couple. Alcohol can be a big part of our relationships, but for some couples, it turns into a real problem. This is a delicate subject for any couple, but it’s a conversation worth having.
Some of the people taking Club Soda’s courses are mums of teenage (or older) children. They often tell me that their pregnancies were the only times in their adult lives when they didn’t drink. Just through sheer determination, they swore off alcohol for nine months, then went right back to it. But they often wished they’d taken advantage of the break to take a look at their drinking habits. For both of you, taking a break now could be a great opportunity to reset.
The months ahead are will be life-changing, but the truth is, pregnancy is just the beginning. You’re going to have a little one looking up to you soon. So whatever else, be a father they can admire.
Dru Jaeger is one of Club Soda’s co-founders and leads courses for people who want to cut down, stop for a bit or quit, including How to Change Your Drinking. If you’ve got a question about any aspect of changing your drinking, Ask Dru.