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Alcohol during pregnancy

No amount of alcohol at any stage of your pregnancy is safe for your baby.

If you are pregnant and drink alcohol

You should stop drinking alcohol for the rest of your pregnancy. Your baby has a better chance of healthy brain growth and development.

Some people find it hard to stop drinking. If you find it hard to stop, talk to your GP, midwife, or a local alcohol support service.

Non-urgent advice: Get help with problem alcohol use

Freephone 1800 459 459 for confidential advice

If you are planning to get pregnant

If you are trying for a baby, it is best to stop drinking. This means if you get pregnant, your baby will not be exposed to alcohol.

Planning an alcohol-free pregnancy

You might find it hard to give up alcohol while you are pregnant. It can be especially hard if you drink regularly or everyone around you is drinking.

You might feel under pressure to drink, especially if you have not yet told many people you are pregnant.

Tips for an alcohol-free pregnancy

  • Plan ahead and try to avoid triggers ( people and places) which remind you of drinking.
  • If it feels right for you, tell people close to you why you're not drinking.
  • Plan and prepare for alcohol-free activities.
  • Check the labels on alcohol-free or low-alcohol drinks as they can contain alcohol.

What your friends can do to help you avoid alcohol

Do

  • find ways to spend time with you away from alcohol

  • be supportive and focus on healthy activities

  • have non-alcoholic or soft drinks available if hosting parties or events

Don't

  • do not put pressure on anyone to drink

  • do not draw attention to others that you are not drinking

How alcohol can harm your baby

Alcohol can harm your baby's developing brain and body. Alcohol passes from the mother's blood into the baby's blood through the placenta.

Some women break down alcohol faster than others. This is genetic. The longer it takes for you to break down the alcohol, the longer your baby is exposed to its harmful effects.

How your baby is affected by alcohol also depends on:

  • how much you drink - the more you drink, the greater the risk
  • how often you drink
  • the stage of your pregnancy - alcohol can cause physical defect in the first 3 months of pregnancy but can affect brain development at any stage

Important

Drinking during any stage of pregnancy can be harmful to your baby.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). FASD causes long-term problems for your baby. It affects their body and brain development. This can create problems for them later in life.

These include:

  • hyperactivity and poor attention
  • learning difficulties
  • difficulty controlling their impulses and behaviour
  • difficulty getting along with other people
  • being smaller than expected
  • eating problems
  • sleeping problems
  • emotional and mental health problems

People with FASD may also have problems with:

  • education
  • managing money
  • keeping a job
  • the law and crime
  • addictions or substance abuse
  • finding and keeping a permanent home

Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a severe type of FASD. It is caused by drinking heavily during pregnancy. For every case of FAS it is estimated that there are at least 10 cases of FASD.

A child with FAS has many of the symptoms of FASD along with distinctive facial features.

They may also be smaller than normal or underweight and have:

  • damage to their brain and spinal cord
  • an unusually small head or eyes
  • problems with their heart and other body organs

Managing symptoms

The problems caused by FASD are permanent and irreversible. They are lifelong disorders. If your child is diagnosed and treated early, they can learn to manage symptoms better.

Page last reviewed: 11 July 2023
Next review due: 11 July 2026