There's a good idea buried in the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's recent bungled message about alcohol and pregnancy: Women are typically pregnant for at least a few weeks before they know it. So if you're trying to get pregnant, you may want to start thinking about your alcohol intake now. Photo by Danny Baza Blas.
A pregnancy test won't even register as positive during the first two weeks that an embryo exists, and typical pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness don't begin until a few weeks after that. (That's why it makes sense to start taking prenatal vitamins when you're trying to conceive, and not wait until you get a positive result.) An embryo's brain is the most sensitive to alcohol at about 2-3 weeks after conception, but alcohol can have potentially damaging effects at any time.
The CDC found that half of pregnancies are unplanned, and that women don't stop drinking when they start trying to get pregnant: about 75 per cent of young women drink, whether they're trying or not.
That just leaves the question of whether any drinking at all is OK during the early weeks of a pregnancy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says no. The American Academy of Pediatrics also says no. The real answer is probably more complicated than that. We know that binge drinking or a two-drink-a-day habit puts a foetus at risk, but studies haven't been done that would tell us whether lighter drinking affects kids as they grow up.
So this boils down to: think about it. If you're trying to get pregnant, consider whether you're comfortable with the risk of a few drinks. And if you're doing keg stands every night because you aren't planning a pregnancy, follow through on that intention by using effective birth control.