Alcohol, now you’re a parent

Maddy Lawson | March 2018 | 8 minutes

There’s so much confusing information around alcohol, pregnancy and children, that parents can find it difficult to know what to do for the best. So, we’ve put together evidence-based advice and suggestions to help new parents make informed decisions about alcohol.

Alcohol in pregnancy

During pregnancy, the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (the country’s top doctors) advise that the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all. This is because high levels of drinking in pregnancy are associated with harm to the baby and a ‘safe’ level of drinking has not been identified.

Alcohol and life with a newborn

In the early weeks after having a baby, many parents find it beneficial to stop drinking for a while or cut down their drinking to only one or two drinks a week. That goes for partners as well as new mothers, and there are a couple of reasons.

First, the early weeks looking after a baby can be intensive and tiring and drinking a lot of alcohol can make that worse. It’s a myth that alcohol can help us to get a good night’s sleep. In fact, drinking before bedtime tends to lead to poor-quality sleep, leaving us even more worn out in the morning.

Second, living with a new baby can be stressful. While some people look forward to ‘wine o’clock’ as a reward towards the end of the day, it’s also important to be aware that drinking is associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety. And as new parents will know, with a very young baby days don’t really ‘end’!

Alcohol and breastfeeding

There's some evidence that regularly drinking more than two units of alcohol a day while breastfeeding may affect a baby's development. Occasional drinking is unlikely to harm a breastfed baby. It's recommended that breastfeeding mothers have no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week. You can read more about this here.

Alcohol and sleeping with your baby

It is important that parents do not sleep either in a bed or on a sofa with their baby after drinking alcohol. Doing this is associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Alcohol after the early weeks

The Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines advise that both men and women should not drink more than 14 units a week – so, not more than five or six pints of beer or cider in any one week, which is about a bottle and a half of wine. It’s also a good idea to spread drinking over three days or more and include some alcohol-free days. Wine drinkers may want to invest in a bottle-stopper.

What should I do if I think I’m drinking too much?

If you’re worried that you may be drinking too much, the first thing to remember is not to blame yourself (or anyone else). There are all sorts of reasons that any of us might get into a habit of drinking too much or too often, and recognising that things might have got out of hand is the first step to getting back on track. If you’re concerned about your own drinking habits, there a few things you can try.

  1. Try keeping a drinks diary, jotting down how much you’re drinking, when, where, and maybe why. This will help you get a realistic picture of your drinking habits. It may also show you if some situations make you more inclined to drink. You might want to think about other ways you can manage those situations. Or, if it’s possible, you might want to avoid some of them. You can use Try Dry: the Dry January app (available for Apple and Android) to do this.
  2. Consider taking more alcohol-free days each week. Drinking can easily become a habit if you don’t take regular breaks from it.
  3. Think about how much alcohol you keep in the house – if you’ve got it in the cupboard or the fridge, it’s all too easy to drink it. Most supermarkets have a much better range of alcohol-free drinks than a few years ago, so you could check those out when you’re shopping.
  4. If you go out (which may seem like a distance memory if you’ve got a small baby), don’t let other people pressure you into drinking more, and maybe avoid drinking in rounds

You can also try using our online drinking quiz to check your drinking. If your score is 15 or more, you may wish to discuss it with your GP or your local alcohol service, as you could benefit from cutting back. If your score is 20 or more, you are at risk of becoming dependent on alcohol, and we would strongly advise you to speak to your GP or local alcohol service as soon as possible, to find out about your options for reducing your drinking.