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What can I drink when pregnant?

Helen McGinn, author of Teetotal Tipples, explains the best drinks to have whilst pregnant including recipes for some tasty elderflower cordial!

What can I drink when pregnant

‘As if the swollen ankles, hot flushes and constant loo trips weren’t enough to put up with during pregnancy,’ Helen McGinn writes, ‘you can’t drink either. The most recent government guidelines advise that no alcohol is consumed when pregnant.’


As experts continue to disagree how much alcohol, if any, is safe to drink while you are pregnant, it makes sense to avoid alcohol altogether if you are expecting. The advice of the Chief Medical Officer of the UK is that if you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, then it is best to drink no alcohol at all. This approach keeps the risk to your baby to an absolute minimum.


‘I was pregnant/breastfeeding for about five years on and off,’ says Helen, ‘but that was back when one or two glasses of wine per week weren’t considered the work of the devil. Not that I felt like going anywhere near a glass of wine until at least after the halfway mark. I definitely enjoyed the odd small glass a couple of times a week but really, I preferred a cold glass of something gingery, which seemed to help ease nauseous waves. Or a cup of hot water with a chunk of ginger thrown in, or a cup of herbal tea (not raspberry leaf, though – I’m never going near that stuff again, having drunk gallons to induce labour. It didn’t work, ever).


‘Anything carbonated played havoc in the later stages of pregnancy,’ says Helen, ‘so I stuck to non-fizzy drinks. A glass of cold water with ice, a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime, a sprinkling of salt flakes and a sprig of mint is a quick-fix favourite, pregnant or not. You could of course switch the salt for a pinch of sugar if you prefer, depending on what your taste buds are craving.


‘And we can’t talk pregnancy without talking elderflower. According to folklore, elders have particularly relevant medicinal properties. Apparently the bark hastens labour and the berries soothe piles. Just as well, really. If you want to avoid bubbles, stick with a small dash of cordial and mix it with cold, still water and lots of ice.’





Elderflower Cordial


Served properly, i.e., with lots of ice in a beautiful glass, cold to the touch, elderflower can be a favourite non-drink drink. You could add sparkling mineral water, but the sweetness of the elderflower combines beautifully with the grown-up bitterness of tonic water.


Handful of ice cubes

1 part elderflower cordial (bought or homemade), chilled

4 parts tonic water, chilled

Slice of fresh lemon


Fill a tall glass with a handful of ice cubes. Add one part elderflower cordial to four parts tonic water. Both cordial and tonic should be fridge-cold. Add a slcie of lemon to serve.


Homemade Elderflower Cordial


Makes 1.5 litres, which can be split between two Kilner clip-top bottles, each with a 1-litre capacity


If it gets to the time of year when the hedgerows bloom with elderflowers (May and June is the time to be on the lookout in the UK) and you decide you are going to make your own elderflower cordial, there are tons of recipes around – all with different steeping times, amounts of sugar and added ingredients. My favourite is this one, with a whopping four-day steeping time. It gives the resulting cordial a gorgeous proper hedgerow character, which goes some small way to making up for the lack of alcohol. There’s also something pleasingly therapeutic about inhaling the (increasingly floral) scent each day as you lift the tea towel covering the pot to give it a stir.


20 whole elderflower heads, no stalks (gathered just as the buds are opening)

1.5 litres water

1kg sugar

Juice and zest of 3 fresh lemons

Juice and zest of 1 fresh orange

1 tsp citric acid (optional)


Gently rinse the elderflower heads and drain on kitchen paper or blow on them to get rid of any lurking insects. Pour the water into a large pan, add the sugar and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and add the elderflower heds together with the juice and zest of the lemons and orange. Add the citric acid if using (I do: it makes it less cloudy). Cover and leave in a cool place for four days, stirring once daily, then pour it through a muslin-lined sieve (to catch any little bugs) and into a jug before pouring into sterilised bottles.


To sterilise the bottles, I just put them through a quick dish-washer cycle. But you can also soak them in hot soapy water, rinse and leave to dry in a very low oven (100˚C/225˚F/Gas 4).


The cordial will keep in the fridge for about four weeks, although mine barely lasts two weeks because the children go through it at an alarming rate.