What does alcohol consumption during pregnancy do to your baby

What does alcohol consumption during pregnancy do to your baby

If nothing else convinces you not to drink alcohol whilst pregnant, let it be this - alcohol consumption whilst pregnant impacts the ability of your baby to sleep in the womb, depriving it of its much needed REM sleep to allow for brain development at its most critical time. 

We have already looked at why REM sleep is so important to babies - see my blog post on sleep before birth.

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What we know now is that alcohol like anything consumed by the mother crosses across to the fetus inside her through the placenta and is consumed by this developing fetus. In grown adults, alcohol acts as a REM sleep suppressant. We all remember days when we drank a bit the night before and then wake up super early the next morning, right when our REM sleep is at its optimal best. If it can do that to an adult - what does it do to a fetus or infant?

Alcohol consumption during Pregnancy

A study was performed by Havlicek, Childiaeve and Chernick on the sleep states of infants of alcoholic mothers and found that for mothers who were alcoholics during pregnancy, after birth their newborns spent a lot less time in REM sleep compared to the infants of the same age of non-alcoholic mothers. A lot less meaning a 200% reduction in REM sleep - this beautiful vibrant electrical activity helping the babies brain grow and develop. In fact studies have linked alcohol consumption pre-conception to illnesses such as autism (Prenatal factors associated with autism spectrum disorder by Ornoy, Weinstein-Fudim and Ergaz). 

What about during the pre-conception period? Even a glass or two of wine with dinner every now and then during pregnancy affects the fetus. A study by Mulder, Morssink, van der Schee and Visser “Acute maternal alcohol consumption disrupts behavioural state organisation in the near term fetus” examined such mums on two consecutive days and found that on the day when the mother drank non-alcoholic fluids. On the day when they drank 2 glasses of wine, this reduced the amount of time the fetus spent in REM sleep, and showed a decrease in breathing during REM sleep with breath rates dropping from normal (381 per hour) to 4 per hour when the alcohol had crossed the placenta and was absorbed by the fetus. 

Alcohol consumption whilst breastfeeding 

Breastmilk is specially made just for human babies. Not cows milk, or infant formula as you might think. But human breast milk. All the nutrients a mother consumes are passed onto to the infant through breastmilk. I’m not sure how true the whole ‘ pump and dump’ technique is in getting rid of alcohol infused breast milk from your body before feeding your baby but studies have shown that where an infant consumes breastmilk after mum has had a drink or two, they have a decrease of 20 - 30% of REM sleep soon after. 

The fetus or infant will try to regain the REM sleep it has lost that is so crucial to its development but they will never be able to make up that lost REM sleep.

Alcohol consumption when cosleeping 

A study by Blair, Sidebotham, and Evason Coombe has shown that alcohol consumption by the mother (or i would suggest both parents in the same bed) sleeping with newborn infants increases the risk of SIDS by 7 - 9 times compared to parents who don’t drink alcohol. 

What does this mean - the effects of alcohol on fetal and infant sleep are huge, don’t drink while pregnant, breastfeeding or when parenting in general as your instincts and response times are undoubtedly affected and if you are sleeping you may squish those tiny humans. watch out. 

Research 

  • Why we sleep by Matthew Walker 

  • Why your baby’s sleep matters - Sarah Ockwell Smith 

Cover Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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