The Dangers of Drinking Before Pregnancy

Should you really stop drinking, just in case? A nutritionist weighs in.

If you’re feeling the stress from CDC’s recent advice on pregnancy and alcohol, you’re not alone. The new recommendation, which advised sexually active women to refrain from drinking alcohol if they are not using birth control in case of unintended pregnancy, has raised havoc among women of childbearing age.

Let’s take a step back….

We’re all aware that drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. By the time one realizes they are pregnant, it could be a few extra weeks before your alcohol intake has been cut off entirely.

As a dietitian and health care professional, my advice for women trying to get pregnant is to tune out the alarmist tone of the CDC’s recommendation, but still consider your health as your #1 priority during the pre-conception phase. If you are interested in or planning to conceive, the first step is to prioritize your health in all aspects: nutrition, fitness, sleep, and psychological/mental. As noted by Rebecca Ruiz via Mashable, the CDC’s “underlying message was unmistakable: Women should consider themselves first a vessel for human life and make decisions about their health and behavior based on that possibility.”

I trust that if you’re trying to get pregnant, then it’s likely you are ALREADY proceeding with caution. And since evidence-based research demonstrates a correlation between alcohol consumption and birth defects, and because there isn’t a minimum dosage noted, abstinence is advised.

But, I know not every pregnancy is planned. In fact, the recommendation from the CDC was published after it came to light that the Zika Virus can be transmitted via sexual intercourse, creating its own scary risks for unplanned pregnancy. So there’s certainly merit to practicing caution when in such a phase to conceive. Both the ACOG and AAP applauded the CDC for this recommendation and have pledged their support.

Instead of thinking about the harshness of these recent CDC recommendations, try to focus on improving your general self-care, especially during pre-conception:

  • If you haven’t started a fitness regimen appropriate to your lifestyle, start one. Whether it’s light walking, pilates, strength training, or yoga, it’s much easier to start prior to pregnancy than once you become pregnant. Prime your body for the ability to grow another human over 9-10 months.
  • Nutrition is so important at any stage of your life. However, obtaining a variety of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients before pregnancy is a great way to ensure adequacy within the body. Perhaps it means adding a vegetable protein shake to your weekly meals (check out the green blender for convenience) or investing in a slow cooker to help prep meals ahead of time (we always need more time!) or even stocking up on healthier snacks so that you don’t go too long without eating (..and then making poorer choices because your hangry!)
  • Take advantage of (comfortable) sleep. You’ll be craving for it during pregnancy and well into motherhood. An hour before you typically sleep, implement relaxation strategies to help you disconnect from technology and media thus decreasing stimulation.
  • Focus on lower stress levels. Stress affects each person differently but there are rarely positive side effects from negative stress levels. You may love your job, you may love redecorating your apartment, and you may love moving into a new home but it will take a toll on your health. Set aside a little time every week to de-stress. Massages, nail salon time, and even socializing are all ways to recharge.

Remember, we’re on your side… and we just want to ensure your pregnancy goes the way you want it.


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