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Trying to Get Pregnant? Here’s When to Stop Drinking Alcohol

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently warned sexually active women that they should stop drinking alcohol if they’re not using birth control to prevent pregnancy. While the warning raised some controversy, it highlighted the danger alcohol poses on to developing babies.

“Fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading known cause of mental retardation and is 100 percent preventable, unlike other forms of mental retardation caused by genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome,” said Dr. Mara Thur, an Abington-Jefferson Health obstetrician gynecologist. She added that the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome in the U.S. is approximately one to two cases per 1,000 live births.

Although Dr. Thur advises her patients to follow the “everything in moderation” guideline regarding behaviors and consumption prior to and during pregnancy, she said alcohol consumption is very different.

“I usually recommend that patients stop drinking alcohol right around the time they are attempting to conceive,” she said. “One issue in early pregnancy is that crucial organs develop before eight weeks of pregnancy – often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.”

Because of those crucial early developments, Dr. Thur advises women to err on the side of caution and to stop drinking alcohol. That’s because excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which is a constellation of physical and mental defects.

“In the same breath, I also try to allay patients’ concerns when they find out they are unexpectedly pregnant and are worried about the one glass of wine they had before they knew they were pregnant,” Dr. Thur said. “Even though technically no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy, most studies have shown that fetal alcohol syndrome is caused by moderate to excessive alcohol consumption on a routine basis during pregnancy. That means four to five drinks per day.”

Additionally, women trying to get pregnant should generally avoid unpasteurized cheese and meats, raw fish, and fish with potentially high mercury counts such as swordfish, mackerel or tilefish.

“I also recommend no more than one can of light tuna fish per week,” Dr. Thur said.

Dr. Thur’s recommendation about coffee and caffeine for women trying to get pregnant is in line with her “everything in moderation” motto – some studies have shown that excessive caffeine consumption may increase a woman’s risk of miscarriage. Excessive caffeine consumption is considered greater than 200 mg of caffeine, which is two cups of coffee or five sodas.

If you’re trying to get pregnant, you shouldn’t just focus on what you shouldn’t be doing or eating – there are some things you should start doing.

“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight is most important,” Dr. Thur said. “Obese women can sometimes have difficulty getting pregnant and it has been shown that losing only 10 percent of your body weight may improve your chances of becoming pregnant.”

If you’re planning on getting pregnant, Dr. Thur always recommends that you start a prenatal vitamin with folic acid three months prior to attempting to conceive.

If a woman isn’t necessarily trying to get pregnant, but also isn’t using a reliable form of birth control, she also recommends that they take a prenatal vitamin.

“Because major organ formation happens before most women even know they’re pregnant, I recommend they have that prenatal vitamin on board with folic acid to be safe,” she said. “As for alcohol consumption, no amount of alcohol is truly safe during pregnancy.”

To access an Abington - Jefferson Health OB/GYN, please call 215-481-MEDI (6334) or search our online directory.

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