So you're pregnant
... congratulations! That sounds like cause for a celebration if ever there was one. But of course, now you're with child, there will be no champers for you... or will just one glass be okay?
Sometimes it feels like the goalposts are constantly moving when it comes to drinking alcohol during pregnancy. The official and current advice from the Department of Health
is to abstain completely (particularly during the first three months) or, if you do drink, to consume no more than one or two units, once or twice a week.
In contrast to that, some of the most recent research
, carried out in Denmark, has suggested drinking small to moderate amounts has no adverse effects on children by the age of five. Over there a standard drink has 12g of alcohol, in the UK a drink contains 7.9g – and the researchers' conclusion was that between one and eight Danish-sized drinks per week was safe.
So what's correct? Which line should you be toeing?
However many studies are published, there's only one way to be absolutely sure your unborn baby is not being adversely affected by alcohol – and that, rather obviously, is to not drink any at all.
If you do drink say, a glass of wine, or a bottle of beer, some of the alcohol is going to be passed to you baby via the placenta and, because their little body is still developing, they will not be able to process the booze as fast as your body does.
While it's really unknown what a baby experiences in the womb when you drink, much is known about the effects of heavy drinking throughout pregnancy, because that can lead to a number of problems which will be apparent when your baby arrives.
A baby exposed to high levels of alcohol might have a low birth weight, suffer heart defects, or have behavioural or learning disorders. They might even be one of an estimated 6,000 or more babies born each year who are affected by foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). These can include facial abnormalities and damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to poor mental, emotional and physical development.
FASDs can not be cured, and your child would live with those disabilities for their entire life. However they can, of course, be prevented, so if you are worried about your alcohol consumption and you are pregnant, or you are wishing to get pregnant, it's important that you seek some professional advice and help. Either speak to your GP or midwife, or call the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome
on 020 8458 5951. You can also download information.
If you do decide you'll have the occasional drink while you are pregnant (and many women do), just be sure you know exactly what constitutes a 'low' amount of alcohol because lots of drinks served in pubs and bars contain more booze than you might imagine. At the risk of forcing you to endure a maths lesson each time you go out, it's worth keeping an eye on those labels if you want to stick within the recommended safe limits.
For example, one unit in the form of white wine is a 125ml glass (that's one of those little glasses not even available in some pubs, rather than the bucket-like goblets which can carry a standard 175ml serving, or even 250ml) of something with an ABV of around 9% (but many wines are actually between 11.5% and 13% ABV). If you drink a single 175ml glass of Pinot, you've probably just quaffed 2.3 units in one.
And one unit in the form of lager refers to 'normal strength' lager, which would actually be one with a 3.5% ABV (whereas lots of draught and bottled beers are 5% ABV). So if you drink one pint of any number of well-known brands, you might have just consumed 2.8 units.
You can see how it might be easy to drink more than is considered appropriate or safe – DrinkAware
has a good tool for calculating the units you're really drinking.
It's up to you to decide whether you drink anything alcoholic while you are pregnant. As with all things, the key is to do your research – then, when it comes to making your choice, you'll know it is an informed one.
If you think you'll probably indulge a little, stick to some golden rules:
• When you discover you are pregnant, stop drinking at least during your first trimester, as this is the time when you are most at risk of miscarriage. If you were drinking before you knew you were pregnant, don't worry too much, but do tell your GP or midwife.
• Stick to the limits and do your homework about how much alcoholic drinks really contain.
• Don't binge drink. For a woman, binge drinking is defined as drinking more than six units of alcohol in one go. It's not only unsafe for your baby inside you, it's also unsafe for you.
• If there is one time in your life you should listen to your body it's right now! It's an interesting phenomenon that many women go off alcohol when they are pregnant, while others simply feel thirsty all the time. The physical you is doing all the hard work, so trust what it's telling you.
• Remember, pregnancy is such a short period in your life – nine months is not a very long time to abstain. The experts say one glass of champagne is unlikely to do any harm to your baby, but then, a sparkling elderflower alternative is unlikely to do you any harm either!
- Week two
Ovulation usually happens around the end of week two or at the start of week three, and then... conception! Sperm meets egg and a zygote is formed. It heads off towards the uterus down the fallopian tube.</p>
- Week three
The cells multiply on the journey. Once they settle into the wall of the uterus the embyonic stage has begun. The embryo is still very tiny. It would fit on a pin head! The placenta now starts to grow.</p>
- Week four
Amazingly, the body's main organs have already started to grow. The heart is forming into chambers and beginning to beat, although it doesn't have a regular rhythm yet. If you could have a peek inside your womb, you'd maybe be able to spot the embryo; it is a few milimetres long.</p>
- Week five
A number of blood vessels have formed and the nervous system and brain start to develop around this time too. The embryo doesn't look anything like a baby so far, it resembles a tadpole with a big head instead!</p>
- Week six
By the end of week six the embryo should be a bit bigger than a grain of rice. Tiny lumps originate where the arms and legs will appear. The face starts to develop its shape with bumps, dents and holes where different features will eventually be.</p>
- Week seven
It's still busy in there! The beginnings of teeth appear and fingers and toes start to develop. Those fingers and toes will be webbed for a few weeks. Movement can often be seen on an ultrasound by the end of week seven.</p>
- Week eight
About the size of a bean, the embryo's tail is now disappearing and the body starts to look more straightened out. All the internal organs are present and they all start to do their jobs! Bones are developing as the limbs grow longer.</p>
- Week nine
Muscles have become strong enough to move the arms and legs of the embryo around this time. Skin starts to develop into two layers. The placenta is cleaning away waste, and is making food for your future child along with hormones.</p>
- Week 10
By the end of this week your embryo turns into a foetus. Fingernails start to grow, as well as taste buds in the tongue. Blood is being made and pumped around the body. Downy hair starts to grow from new hair follicles.</p>
- Week 11
The foetus can move more of its body. It can form a fist and arch its back. Eyelids are fully developed by now and the eyes will stay shut until much later in the pregnancy.</p>
- Week 12
You won't be able to feel any movement yet even though the embryo can respond to your touch at this stage. It might even get hiccups! By the end of the first trimester the foetus is pretty much fully formed. Now it just has to grow!</p>
- Week 13
At the start of the second trimester the foetus is still tiny. In week 13, it should weigh about the same as four two-pence coins. Despite being so small, amazingly the fingers already have their very own little fingerprints.</p>
- Week 14
Ideally, by now you will have had your first ultrasound appointment where you can see your future baby and hear the heartbeat. The foetus can now move around a lot more energetically as its muscles develop, although this movement is not controlled by the brain yet.</p>
- Week 15
Laguno starts to cover the body of the foetus. It's a fine downy hair which is shed before birth but may be seen on the bodies of premature babies. Occasionally a term baby is born with laguno still present, and baby seals are born with this hair too!</p>
- Week 16
The foetus is getting bigger all the time. It now is approximately the length of a small ruler. Sweat glands develop on the still transparent skin. The placenta has been growing too and is now about 1cm thick. The foetus's external genitals are forming.</p>
- Week 17
Bones are hardening, including the bones inside the ears. The foetus can now hear sound! Newborns have been shown to recognise the voices they hear while in the womb so don't feel silly chatting to your bump - you are getting to know each other already!</p>
- Week 18
Eyelashes and eyebrows start to sprout, although the eyelids are still tightly shut at this stage. Lots of funny faces are pulled around this time as your unborn baby starts to exercise the muscles needed to breathe and feed later.</p>
- Week 19
Although weight gain continues, growth from now on is a bit slower. The head size starts to look more in proportion with the body. The heartbeat of the foetus can now be heard with a stethoscope - a magical sound for mum! Many first-time mums feel movement for the first time around now.</p>
- Week 20
Around this time you should have your second scan at hospital. Your baby's genitals are developed enough to make it possible to tell what gender he or she is if you can't wait until the birth to find out.</p>
- Week 21
By week 21 the sebaceous glands in the skin are making the greasy, waxy material vernix, seen here on this newborn. This is thought to protect the skin. You are well into the second half of your pregnancy now and the embryo is about 27cm long.</p>
- Week 22
The 22 week old embryo can now swallow some of the liquid surrounding it, and so can make its own urine. It is putting on brown fat. This fat is to keep it warm when born. Nipples appear on boy and girls at about this stage. </p>
- Week 23
You might be surprised to know that the embryo has a startle reflex already. Alveoli (air sacs) are starting to form in the lungs. The embryo now should weigh about 500g, or 1lb.</p>
- Week 24
Babies born at 24 weeks have a chance of survival but there is quite a high risk of health problems for children arriving so prematurely. He would have to stay in hospital until at least his original due date.</p>
- Week 25
By now her eyes can open again, and she can blink too. Eyes are usually blue at birth and can take months to settle into their final colour. The brain, nervous system and bronchi in her lungs are all developing, and she is getting fatter.</p>
- Week 26
The brain is now controlling some movement, so for example, by week 26 he can turn away from bright lights shining onto mum's abdomen. He has regular sleeping and waking patterns and his heart rate is slower.</p>
- Week 27
A 27 week old foetus has all the same proportions as a newborn, and the same brainwave patterns. Nostrils open in preparation for breathing when born. Incredibly, studies have shown that at this age, a foetus has a memory and can learn!</p>
- Week 28
Congratulations, you are in the third and final trimester of your pregnancy! Your baby should now weigh about one kilogram. The hair on his head will now be getting longer and thicker.</p>
- Week 29
Her head is getting bigger now too, it is attempting to keep up with her fast growing brain! As the brain runs out of space it becomes wrinkled and covered with folds and grooves.</p>
- Week 30
You are probably in your last few weeks of work and your baby is working hard too. He has grown to 33cm long and has little eyebrows. At this stage babies begin to stock up on iron. Boys' testes descend into the scrotum.</p>
- Week 31
Bone marrow is making her red blood cells now instead of her liver. The baby starts breathing in some of her surrounding amniotic fluid in preparation for breathing when she is born.</p>
- Week 32
As the lungs are closer to being fully developed by this stage, babies born at 32 weeks or later have a much better chance than those more premature. Early babies born now usually just require some help to breathe and need to be kept warm.</p>
- Week 33
He weighs nearly 2kg at 33 weeks and is running out of room! Your unborn child can still turn round but hopefully he will decide to keep his head pointing down from now on ready for his impending birth.</p>
- Week 34
Her hearing should be fully developed around now. On the subject of hearing, your family could try pressing their ears to your tummy to see if they can hear the baby's heartbeat. It is possible if you get the right place!</p>
- Week 35
Fat is growing under his skin now and he's getting more plump all the time. He starts to look more pink and his skin will appear less loose and wrinkled as he fills out.</p>
- Week 36
Her bones are getting harder towards the end of your pregnancy but her skull bones stay soft to help with delivery. She is now making cortisone which helps her to breathe when she is out in the air.</p>
- Week 37
By now most of the lanugo and vernix has gone from the skin and been swallowed by the baby. This is why his first poo (called meconium) will be so different to any other poo you will see!</p>
- Weeks 38-40
If your baby arrives from now onwards it would be considered full term. On average babies weigh between 2.7 to 4.1kg at birth. It gets quite cramped in there when your baby is fully grown - this baby certainly looks keen to have a nice stretch!</p>
- Week 40
Overdue babies are bigger than others of course, and their skull bones are harder, which can make giving birth more difficult. They are often more alert and lively too, and probably extra keen to meet you as they have been waiting longer!</p>
- Week one
The first week of pregnancy is actually classed as the week after your last period. You haven't even ovulated yet! The baby-to-be really is still just a twinkle in your partner's eye at this stage.</p>