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Are non-alcoholic drinks safe during pregnancy?

While choosing a non-alcoholic wine or beer sounds like a safe choice, some of these beverages do contain alcohol, which is risky in pregnancy.
/ Source: TODAY

Some pregnant people craving a cocktail might turn to a non-alcoholic beer or wine as the safe option. But some non-alcoholic beverages contain alcohol, meaning that mocktail with that non-alcoholic rosé might not be a good idea.

“I was actually surprised myself to learn that non-alcoholic (beverages) still do have a certain amount of alcohol in them,” Dr. Anar Yukhayev, an OB-GYN at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, told TODAY. “When I looked them up some of these non-alcoholic beverages, about a third of them, can have a label of 0% alcohol but actually have up to 1.8% of alcohol.”

A 2010 paper from the Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology looking at 45 drinks with “no or low alcohol” found that many did have more alcohol than labeled. Almost 30% contained more alcohol than mentioned on the labels and six had more than 1% of alcohol. While this might sound like a low amount of alcohol, doctors urge pregnant people to skip drinks with even tiny amounts of alcohol.

“There’s no known amount of alcohol that is OK,” Dr. Christine Greves, an OB-GYN at Orlando Health's Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, told TODAY. “There’s no exact dose response relationship between the amount of alcohol consumed and the extent of damage caused to the baby.”

The reason? Drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

“Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can cause physical, cognitive and behavioral complications,” Yukhayev said. “The worst of it is fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes what we call dysmorphic facial features, growth retardation and then serious neurodevelopmental disorders later on in life.”

That’s why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all pregnant people avoid drinking any alcohol until after the baby is born. Doctors can’t say if a glass of wine or a cocktail once in a while is safe because there’s so little research on drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Most studies look at people who self-report their drinking habits retrospectively. Setting up a study examining alcohol consumption during pregnancy would be risky for the babies and no institution would allow such a study to continue.

“You’re potentially exposing a fetus to something that you know will have negative outcomes,” Yukhayev explained. “Performing such a study would essentially be non-ethical.”

What’s more, drinking during pregnancy might also impact the pregnant parent’s health.

“Alcohol consumption in general does increase your risk for blood pressure issues,” Yukhayev said. “If mother has any blood pressure issues in pregnancy, (drinking) could potentially increase her risk for developing preeclampsia.”

But doctors don’t want people to panic if they enjoyed alcohol while they were pregnant. So often people remain unaware they’re pregnant early on and imbibe.

“I definitely don’t want patients to worry,” Yukhayev said. “A majority of patients don’t plan their pregnancies, it just happens. So you have a good amount of patients who are stressed because they’re trying to get pregnant and they sometimes have a glass of wine to relieve that stress. That’s something we can all relate to.”

Enjoying alcohol is incredibly popular so pregnant people shouldn’t feel guilty or like they’re the only one who accidentally drank before realizing they were pregnant.

“More than half of women of childbearing age report alcohol use and 1 in 8 have reported binge drinking in the past month. That just goes to tell you that drinking alcohol is common,” Greves said. “If there’s something wrong with the baby, we don’t want mom or whoever is with the mom to blame alcohol consumption and the feelings of guilt they may have.”

The experts agree the best advice is no drugs, tobacco use or drinking — even non-alcoholic drink — during pregnancy.

“The risk of having one sip or trying that ‘non-alcoholic beverage’ when you’re pregnant is that we have no idea if it’s going to cause any harm,” Greves said.

They encourage people with substance abuse issues to reach out prior to pregnancy to get help to quit, if needed. But to be absolutely safe, pregnant people should give up anything that says it’s non-alcoholic.

“The ones that are labeled as non-alcoholic wines or beers, just stay away from them," Yukhayev said.