You want the taste and experience of drinking but none of the alcohol? When it comes to pregnancy, are non-alcoholic beverages truly safe?
An emerging trend in craft beers and wine, drinks advertised as non-alcoholic offer consumers, perhaps even pregnant ones, a virgin alternative. With very little medical research available, there is some debate about the safety of these products for pregnant women.
“Conmockted”: How Non-Alcoholic Beverages Are Made
It is important to note that non-alcoholic beverages begin as alcoholic ones, meaning they undergo fermentation, the process by which the sugar is converted to alcohol. The alcohol content is then removed either by distillation or filtration. Distillation involves cooking off the alcohol content at low temperatures over time, usually by steam. Filtration involves the use of reverse osmosis filters.
Does Non-Alcoholic Actually Mean Alcohol-Free?
Whether distilled or filtered, some alcohol may still remain. In fact, most countries classify non-alcoholic beverages as any drink that contains less than 0.05 percent ABV (alcohol by volume).
Recently, new products have come onto the market claiming a 0.0 percent ABV. However, independent consumer testing has indicated that some of these beverages may actually contain some alcohol as well, even as much as 1.8 percent ABV. Given the fact that many social drinkers may consume two or more non-alcoholic beverages—especially if they think there is no risk—they may consequently consume enough alcohol to cause potential harm.
This means that some so-called “non-alcoholic” drinks do contain some alcohol. The amounts are small but may still be dangerous.
The Effects of Alcohol on Pregnancy
Despite little to no medical studies supporting the safety of non-alcoholic beverages for pregnant women, there are many studies on the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. An indisputable fact has emerged: there is no known “safe threshold” for amounts of alcohol imbibed during pregnancy.
Alcohol consumption can cause a whole host of both immediate and long-term complications for the infant. These include physical, cognitive and behavioral problems, some continuing throughout the life of the child. These complications are collectively referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and can include the following:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Dysmorphic (misshapen) facial features
- Neurodevelopmental disorders
- Poor abstract thinking
- Speech and language difficulties
- Vision or hearing problems
Non-Alcoholic Beverages and Breastfeeding
Research is thin when it comes to non-alcoholic drinks for breastfeeding mothers as well. We do know that alcohol consumption during breastfeeding can affect milk production and cause hypoglycemia and impaired motor development in the infant. Consuming non-alcoholic beverages while breastfeeding is safer than alcohol, but it is better to give appropriate amounts of time between consumption and feeding.
Better to Be Safe Than Sorry
With no known safety threshold, higher than advertised ABV percentages and the devastating possible consequences, consuming non-alcoholic beverages while pregnant is simply a risk not worth taking.