Nappies, sleepless nights, and wine o’clock

It’s not always easy knowing what’s best for your baby but drinking too much around them is not a good idea.

Drink problems are more common than many of us think, affecting over one million people in the UK. But this is avoidable. And you can help to give your child the best possible chance of developing a healthy relationship with alcohol when they are older.

Here we share advice from experienced parents and alcohol experts on how to cope in the first few years to try and help you work out some answers that work for you.

Living with a new baby

There’s no two ways about it – living with a new baby is hard work. You’ll probably be worrying about feeding and sleep (theirs and yours!) and every minor illness they pick up can feel like a crisis. You may not be getting the help you’d hoped for from your family – and some of the help you do get might not be particularly ‘helpful’.

With all this going on, it can be very tempting to seek comfort in a drink or two. Many parents look forward to ‘wine o’clock’ as a reward at the end of the day. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with the odd drink now and again, but it’s worth taking a pause for thought before you uncork the bottle.

Drinking for stress-relief can easily become a habit, and that can become a problem in itself. Alcohol provides immediate relaxation, but, overall, it’s likely to leave you feeling more anxious and depressed. It will help you get off to sleep, but it will make your sleep shallower and less restful. Plus, if you have to get up in the night, you’ll benefit from a clear head.

Alcohol and sleeping with your baby

If you ever sleep alongside your baby – either in your bed or on the sofa – it’s worth avoiding alcohol altogether at those times. If you’ve been drinking, there is a risk that you could roll onto your baby without noticing – a small risk, but not one anyone would want to take.

Alcohol and breastfeeding

If you’ve just spent nine months not drinking during your pregnancy, you may be looking forward to enjoying the occasional drink again. You may also be wondering what to do if you’re breastfeeding.

Alcohol appears in breastmilk in the same concentrations as in blood, but this doesn’t mean that new mothers shouldn’t drink. Low concentrations of alcohol have not been shown to be harmful to babies, and even de-alcoholised beer (no- or low-alcohol beer) contains more alcohol than breastmilk. However, experts disagree about what advice to give. Some apply what’s called the ‘precautionary principle’ (better safe than sorry) and advise breastfeeding mothers not to drink. Others say that moderate drinking is okay. Some worry that too much emphasis on total abstinence will turn women off breastfeeding, which is known to be beneficial for babies and often the way that mothers want to feed their babies. The official NHS advice is to have no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week. Infant feeding specialists such as those at La Leche League and Breastfeeding Network provide further tips and advice.

Managing your drinking now that you're a parent

As your child gets older

Letting children try alcohol

As your children get older, you may start wondering how to help them understand about alcohol. Here are a few pointers.

The official advice

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers say an alcohol-free childhood is best. That means:

  • No alcohol until at least 15 years of age
  • Only very small amounts between the ages of 15 and 18, and never more than once a week
The law

In the UK, no one under the age of 18 can buy alcohol, and adults cannot buy it for them. Thanks to a historic law, any child aged 5 or older can have an alcoholic drink at home or in any private house – although we certainly wouldn’t recommend it at such a young age!

But don’t they do it in Europe?

It’s a bit of myth that children in places like France and Italy are familiar with alcohol from an early age. The amounts of alcohol given to children in the wine-drinking countries of Europe are tiny – it’s more a matter of adding a little bit of wine to some water, rather than the other way around. Plus, children in those countries learn about alcohol as part of a moderate drinking culture. Without that, introducing children to alcohol early is a risky business.

Where we go from here?

The UK's drinking culture is changing all the time but it still has a long way to go. We're working hard to ensure that not drinking or drinking less is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice for everyone to make without the need for elaborate excuses about the whys and wherefores of choosing not to do so.

A healthy lifestyle for you

Tom's story on cutting down when Georgie came along