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Mother and Baby

Pass The Alco-Prop

After a day of cleaning up and Peppa Pig, you won’t be the only mum looking forward to that post-bedtime victory drink. But some of us could be taking wine time too far…

The moment those bubbles hit the bath water, you can guarantee two things:

1) Armed with squirters and soggy flannels, my children, aged four and two, will discover new levels of mischief.

2) I’ll be thinking about the cold glass  of wine (my alco-prop, if you will) I’ll be enjoying in, ooh, about half an hour.

In my mind, there’s no tricky mum moment that can’t be helped by the right kind of booze. Want to forget the lovingly-prepared fresh fish goujons my little one declared were ‘yucky’? Have a large glass of soothing red. Trying to stay awake after four hours’ sleep? Cheers to a crisp cava (at teatime, not breakfast, obvs). And let’s not even pretend I’m the only mother who has ‘GIN’ written in capital letters next to rice cakes and raisins on her shopping list.

One night, I signed off an email saying, ‘Spending the evening with my friends Sofa and Sauvignon’. I accidentally ‘replied all’ to a group of mums and, within minutes, six of them had written back saying they were doing the same.

Having kids doesn’t give you a personality transplant – if you liked a few drinks before, you probably will now

‘I don’t know how I’d have gotten through the first year of motherhood without wine o’clock,’ says Becky, 27, from Dorset, who’s mum to Sam, 18 months. ‘After a day putting my baby first, I deserve to relax. It’s like getting the old me back.’

Crack One Open

Drinking at home has reached an all-time high in the UK, according to government statistics, with middle-class women being twice as likely to be heavy, regular drinkers, compared with any other sector of society. One study found that almost half of all mums enjoy an alcoholic tipple at the end of the day. Then there’s the ‘glass of wine, anyone?’ threads in chatrooms, where members unwind and talk about their day while having a drink, once the kids are in bed.

‘We drink because we deserve it,’ says Emily Thorpe, founder of Happy Working Mum, and mum to Fin, eight, and Jakey, five. ‘Opening that bottle of red is like a pat on the back for making it through the day. You can easily lose your own identity when you’re a mother and, if you’re stressed, you won’t be at your best.’ Or, at least that’s how we justify it.

Of course, women from previous generations also drank Mad-Men style or at dinner parties over the vol au vents. But it wasn’t as openly accepted. Now, once-gloomy pubs have become spacious, sofa-filled and family-friendly, and we can buy our alcohol in the supermarket next to nappies and baby wipes. Where gin was once known as mother’s ruin, it’s now seen as mother’s little helper. Well, in my house anyway.

‘Everything around us, particularly British TV and advertising, is promoting the idea of women using alcohol as a treat,’ says Emily Robinson, Director of Campaigns at Alcohol Concern.

‘Now, it’s not just accepted, it’s socially expected.’ So, where’s the problem? Well, somewhere along the line, enjoying a couple of glasses of Pinot can turn into downing a bottle every night. Considering that official NHS advice on drinking is that women should only have up to three units of alcohol (or one large glass of wine) every two or three nights, some of us may be enjoying our wine-fuelled downtime a bit too much.

Like any habit, it’s hard to leave behind an evening glass of wine (or three)

You are still you

‘I’d drink three large glasses of wine most nights,’ says Katie, 30, from London, who’s mum to Mia, two. ‘I thought it was manageable until the night Mia woke up with a fever and vomiting. I couldn’t think straight and, when I called an ambulance, I stumbled over my words. Thankfully, she was fine – it was just a nasty bug – but I’m not sure how I’d have coped if it had been something worse.’

But it’s no wonder some mums enjoy alcohol, according to Dr Joan Harvey, chartered psychologist at Newcastle University. ‘Drinking at home means you don’t need a babysitter, so it’s convenient, cheap and a reminder of your social life before children,’ she says.

Having kids doesn’t give you a personality transplant – if you liked a few drinks before, you probably will now. ‘You might also feel like rebelling against the responsibilities of being a parent, which is fine if it’s just a glass or two. The key is not to use alcohol as your crutch for dealing with the world.’ If you need an alco-prop, that’s when you’ve crossed the line.

Keep control

And going a step too far is an easy trap to fall into.

‘To keep your alcohol intake under control, have a couple of booze-free days between drinking nights,’ says Emily. If you feel like you can’t face a day without it, that’s a warning sign and you should talk to your GP.

‘Having a drink can seem relaxing, but it will only block problems temporarily. They’ll return the next morning with a hangover on top,’ says Joan. ‘You need to examine your emotions and find a healthy solution, rather than blotting it out with a glass of wine the size of a goldfish bowl.’

But, before you panic, being sensible doesn’t have to mean giving up alcohol entirely – an occasional vino can be a positive thing. ‘It’s about drinking less, but better,’ says Helen McGinn, mum of three and author of the Knackered Mother’s Wine Club book and blog.

‘Don’t knock back a glass so fast you don’t even taste it. Instead, try a delicious new wine, settle down and concentrate on the flavour – that way, you can savour it properly.’

As I finish writing this, the house is quiet and my mind has turned to the merlot in the kitchen. It’s been a long day filled with work deadlines, chores and cranky children. But tonight, I won’t glug down the best part of a bottle while watching TV and tweeting. I’m going to slowly and deliberately drink a glass – and enjoy every single sip.

Drink less, enjoy it more

Like any habit, it’s hard to leave behind an evening glass of wine (or three). But there are ways to make it easier. Don’t worry, we won’t tell you to go for a run…

Find an alternative

‘In the summer, I’ll go for a refreshing soft drink like sparkling water with chunks of cucumber and slices of lime,’ says Helen. ‘Come winter, I prefer a strong flavour, like ginger beer, then drink it nice and slowly.’

Plan ahead

‘If you’re going to drink wine, plan in advance exactly how much you’re going to have. When you’ve finished that amount, put away the bottle,’ says Emily. ‘Or buy mini bottles – then there’s no temptation to finish off a big one.’

Pause between drinks

It’s easy to glug back your first glass, then race onto the next before you’ve even felt the glowy effects. Instead, pause and have water between glasses – it’s impossible to drink slowly if you’re thirsty.

Eat OK

We get it, it’s fun having a drink on an empty stomach and getting that light-headed tipsiness. But, if you eat at the same time, you’ll drink at a more relaxed pace. You may also find you don’t feel like having another.

Find other treats

‘I keep a list of things that I’m looking forward to,’ says Emily. ‘For example, on Monday, I might phone a friend. Tuesday, I’ll potter in the garden and on Wednesday, watch a DVD.’

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