Is it reasonable to expect your partner to give up drinking in pregnancy?

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From the moment that I fell pregnant with my son, I realised just how much my life had already started to change.

In growing a little human, I became super aware of the right and wrong foods to eat, was conscious about gettin enough rest, and was extra vigilant about staying away from alcohol.  

But I am not going to lie. That last sacrifice was really difficult.  

In the first few months I didn't really feel like drinking, so that was easy enough. But after the queasiness passed, I missed my regular wine, and being at a party with an orange juice in hand wore thin pretty quick.  

What also didn't help was that my husband continued to drink regularly. In fact, if anything, he often drank more, as now he had an inbuilt designated driver for all social events.

I found it really frustrating and actually quite selfish of him. But was I being unreasonable?  

I asked some other friends what they thought, and most of them admitted that their husbands had also never considered giving up alcohol in support of their pregnancy.

"Are there actually husbands who do this?" asked one. Another responded with multiple self-explanatory laughter emojis. And one friend in particular admitted that her husband was still drunk when her waters broke so he suggested she drive them to hospital!

I guess for a lot of men there's the attitude of 'well, why would I stop drinking?' After all, they're not harming the baby in any way by continuing to drink.

But Frances Ann, development manager at FARE (Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education), says there are reasons why men's abstinence from alcohol can help during a woman's pregnancy.

FARE runs the Pregnant Pause campaign, which aims to raise awareness of - and funds for research - for foetal alcohol syndrome disorder. Part of the campaign encourages men to remain alcohol-free while their loved one is pregnant.

"There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and research has shown that many women are more likely to avoid alcohol when their partners do too," Ann told me.

"We know that pressure to drink is all around us, alcohol has never been more readily available, cheaper or more aggressively marketed. By not drinking, you're making it easier for your partner to not drink as well."

Ann says she is pleased to see the Pregnant Pause campaign positively impacting people's lives.

"Our Pregnant Pause participants are excited to be participating in their partner's pregnancy in a meaningful and worthwhile way, and to be engaged in efforts to give their child the healthiest possible start to life."

Duncan Buchanan, dad to two girls, supported his wife by not drinking during her last pregnancy. Prior to this he showed his support by abstaining from alcohol for nine weeks – a week for every month of pregnancy –  after his first daughter was born.

"The first time was a bit of a dare really. While my wife was pregnant she was complaining that it was so difficult going without, and I said 'phhh, it's no big deal'," he says.

"That quickly led to a challenge for me to go nine consecutive weeks for her nine months. This was done one year to the day after the birth of our first child (ironically on international FASD day), so I could feel how hard it was going without when my partner was drinking."

When she fell pregnant the second time, Buchanan abstained from alcohol for the whole nine months.

"The first experience made me realise that it was actually harder to do it alone. If we did it together it would be so much easier. We could be crutches for each other and, without the temptation from each other, it was pretty simple," he says.

Buchanan admits that abstinence wasn't without its challenges, and says the biggest one was actually the social pressure put on him.

"When my wife mentioned, 'I'm not drinking because I'm pregnant' she was applauded. But when I said, 'I'm not drinking because my wife is pregnant' I was scolded. I was pretty surprised to say that it wasn't just by blokes, but also by females."

Despite this, Buchanan says that the positives - such as losing weight, not having a hangover and supporting his wife - outweighed the negatives. His advice to others is to do it.

"After a month it's all smooth sailing. Some events are hard, like birthdays, weddings, Christmas and new years, but it's so much easier doing it together. And anything you can do to ensure the health of your new baby is a great thing."

Tabitha Corser, a drug and alcohol counsellor, also encourages men to abstain from alcohol during their partner's pregnancies.

"Pregnancy, particularly for first timers, can be a time of enormous pressure and scrutiny and having a partner who remains alcohol free can be very encouraging for many women," she says. "It means that they don't feel so isolated, particularly in social situations."

She also says that it can mean fewer arguments - but the benefits for men don't just stop there.

Corser highlights that alcohol abstinence for men also results in improved immune system, improved sexual and physical performance, reduced blood pressure, weight loss and improved kidney function.

"What most people don't realise is that alcohol is a type 1 carcinogenic – which means that it's a cancer-forming drug – just like asbestos and formaldehyde," she says. "So every drink you abstain from reduces your risk of a variety of cancers, including bowel, colon, liver, larynx, pharynx, oesophagus, stomach."

If the men still remain unconvinced, Corser offers them the following tips to get onboard or, at least, offer support:

  • if you are not going to quit completely, then at least take a break or pause from alcohol during the pregnancy by cutting down
  • avoid drinking around your partner and in social situations when together
  • offer your partner non-alcoholic drinks
  • be prepared – take non-alcoholic drinks to social events so that you partner has something to drink
  • take part in social activities with your partner that don't involve alcohol
  • encourage and help reduce stress levels in her life. Many people drink to unwind and relax – perhaps offer a shoulder massage instead!
  • remember ... happy wife, happy life!