How Alcohol and Binge Drinking Affect your Pregnancy

Government recommendations are that pregnant women should avoid alcohol in their first three months of pregnancy, but if they choose to drink alcohol, they should not consume more than 1-2 units, once or twice a week. Binge drinking should be avoided altogether as regular heavy alcohol during pregnancy can have a serious effect on the baby; this is called foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). It can also cause premature births or low birth weight babies.

The challenge

We looked at the alcohol habits of nearly 11,000 pregnant women across Bradford between 2007 and 2010. The research showed that there was a 70% increase in the risk of having a small baby if mothers regularly drank at least five units of alcohol during pregnancy (five units is binge drinking). Five units, a binge, are equal to half a bottle of wine or two pints of medium-strength beer. Unfortunately these low birth weight babies have a greater risk of developing breathing problems and infections

What we have found

We found that about a quarter of pregnant women in Bradford binge drink before pregnancy, but this falls to 9% during the first three months and 3% during the second three months of pregnancy. It seems that most mums are following the Government’s advice that women should not binge drink at all during pregnancy as there are risks to their unborn child. About half of all pregnant women in Bradford don’t drink alcohol at all; these are the women of Pakistani origin.

The message that women should not drink at all during pregnancy is the safest policy, it is a policy that is pursued by most countries.

Help is availible if you need it

There are various services locally in Bradford and across the country to help women cut down or stop drinking, or deal with alcohol dependency. The best place for women to start discussing these issues is with their GP or midwife

Link to full research

You can read more on this research in the following paper:

  • Cooper, D. L., Petherick, E. S., & Wright, J. (2013). The association between binge drinking and birth outcomes: results from the Born in Bradford cohort study. Journal of epidemiology and community health, 67(10), 821-828. here

Duncan Cooper

Duncan Cooper has a background in public health intelligence, epidemiology and health protection surveillance.

He was seconded to Born in Bradford during 2012/2013 and is currently a Public Health Registrar in Wakefield Council working in the areas of sexual health, cancer and mental health.