Friday, January 10, 2014

Alcohol and Birth

photo courtesy of *midtownsky*

I have to say I’m a little appalled at the birth making its rounds right now on the internet. I find it ridiculous for many reasons. One of them being the hard alcohol the mother drank during the birth.

What’s more shocking is that it actually seems to be a pretty commonly recommended intervention in home birth. The first time I ever heard the idea of drinking alcohol to help the pain of labor was in our childbirth education classes. Taught by a home birth midwife. She suggested it. 

Since then I’ve seen it in other home birth photographs with the mother drinking alcohol. And I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a home birth midwife recommend it for labor pain or heard a woman say “my [home birth] midwife said to have a little wine in labor to help me relax or sleep if I can.” I have actually heard the recommendation a few times to mix wine with Benadryl.

Now. To be clear. The point of this post is not to condemn those who choose to drink alcohol during pregnancy. If you understand the potential risks and are ok with it, that’s your choice. Binge drinking or drinking regularly, though, clearly not a good idea. And I can’t say I could get behind drinking booze during labor, either.

If your midwife or anyone suggests alcohol (or if it’s something you saw in a birth video one time and thought it looked like a good idea) then you should be aware of the following:

1. Alcohol freely crosses the placenta. And it stays in your baby’s system longer than it will stay in yours. 

2. Your baby’s blood alcohol level is actually higher than yours. If you are feeling the effects, your baby is feeling the effects even more.

3. Alcohol affects the delivery of oxygen to your baby. Labor contractions are already hard enough on your baby, disrupting their oxygen supply with each one. You could potentially create a very distressful situation for your baby if drinking while in labor.

4. Another tidbit our childbirth education midwife offered was this “just don’t smell like alcohol if you go to a hospital!” If you drink and you do smell like it and you go to a hospital, the hospital staff may have bit of an issue with this. If for any reason they suspect the mother is under the influence, you can bet they will want to run tests on your baby and if there is alcohol in the baby’s system, you will have CPS to deal with.

5. Alcohol is an intervention. If avoiding interventions is important to you, understand that alcohol is an intervention. And it has the potential to lead to other interventions.

6. It is unknown if there is a “safe” amount of alcohol to drink in pregnancy. Even in labor it can potentially do damage, causing issues or disorders of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Alcohol consumption can do damage at any point in pregnancy.

To end, I have a question…. For those who think alcohol during labor is an acceptable form of pain relief, I have to ask if you still consider the birth to be “natural?” I'm referring to those who define "natural" as being a vaginal birth without drugs. What about booze in labor?

Edited 01/12/2013 -
A friend commented on my post about this blog on Facebook and added this video. Very interesting information about drinking during pregnancy, even in low doses. Here is the video, skip to the 20 minute marker (video should automatically do so):

To watch the video click this link: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder 


  1. I agree, with everything you say. Somewhat amazed that someone can be horrified and anti medical intervention and possible medications to ease labour pains, but can consume strong booze and not think it would pose a problem to the baby.
    I will say though, that my very qualified, experienced and well known and respected OB, whom I adore, and who looked after me with great skill at my son's birth, did tell me, the day I reached 40 weeks, and was in for my check up, with no sign of my son making his arrival any time soon, despite 3 weeks of prodromal labour, to "go home, half half a glass of wine, or a weak gin&tonic, have a relaxing bath, and get on your birthing ball" because he knew I was DONE and fed up, and I figured he knew what he was talking about, so I did, and have no regrets. (I certainly didn't tweet or blog about it though) My son arrived 4 days later, and that was the only alcohol I drank during my pregnancy.

  2. Oh, and I would not have considered booze during labour. It is just as much a drug as the meds used for an epidural, and I would hands down have the epi, over a whisky sour, (apart from the fact I would probably have puked if I had drunk that! :)

  3. Once again proves homebirth must be brought into the larger healthcare system with graduate prepared midwives who can admit client's for pain mangement. NO ONE IS EVER A FAILURE IF THEY NEED PAIN MANAGEMENT!

    We need midwifery practices that offer services across all three settings. In hospital, birthing centers and at home. Midwives have admitting privilages in all three settings. Such will allow the midwife to follow the client where their needs can be met safely.

    Furthermore, we must implement home services that allow for early discharge from in hospital settings. I with others in our practice in Atlanta are implementing such.....

    1. Completely agree. Earning hospital privileges only helps to serve women better. How nice it would be for a mother in labor to have her midwife continue care in the event of a transfer.

    2. And I know this is the case for some CNMs and CMs and that is wonderful!

    3. And also, I completely agree that a woman is not a failure is she chooses pain relief in labor (or if anyone ever needs it for any reason). 100% agree.

  4. You have the point there, Doula. Drinking alcohol while pregnant is already risky, and drinking it during labor seems far-fetched. I hope people don't swallow those home remedies whole and keep themselves informed as to what complications alcohol can do to their unborn child. Thanks for sharing!

    Donnie Benson @ Midwest Institute

  5. Women take epidurals which is drugs and i think alcohol is safer considering if u flinch the needle can paralyze you. Js...

  6. Ive had two natural drug free births; however I would consider being injected with pethidine or an epidural far riskier than a few sips of wine. Or the baby being injected with a Hep B vaccine the minute they arrive in the world. Stupidity.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...