Skip to main content

We use cookies to help us improve your experience and to provide services like web chat. We also use cookies to measure the effectiveness of public health campaigns and understand how people use the website.

To find out more about cookies and how we use them, please see our privacy policy.

Alcohol during pregnancy

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

If you are pregnant and have been drinking alcohol

Stop drinking alcohol for the rest of your pregnancy. If you do, your baby has a better chance of healthy brain growth and development.

Some women find it hard to stop drinking. If you find it hard to stop, your GP, midwife or obstetrician can help you.

HSE Alcohol Helpline

Free and confidential information and advice from a health professional.
Freephone: 1800 459 459
helpline@hse.ie
Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm

If you are planning to become pregnant

You may be planning to become pregnant. If you are, give up alcohol while you are trying to conceive (get pregnant) and during your pregnancy. This will avoid any risk to your baby.

Related topic

Lifestyle changes and things to avoid during pregnancy

Planning an alcohol-free pregnancy

You might find it hard to give up alcohol for 9 months. Especially if you drink regularly or everyone around you is drinking.

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

Tips for an alcohol-free pregnancy

  • Plan ahead and manage temptation and pressure to drink.
  • Explain your reasons for not drinking to those close to you and ask them to support your decision.
  • Plan alcohol-free activities.

How partners, friends, and family can help

Find new routines and activities so you can spend time together away from alcohol. Be supportive and focus on trying to find practical ways to help.

Never pressurise someone into taking a drink. Don't make a comment about them when they say no when they are offered a drink.

If you are having a social event, have a variety of alcohol-free drinks available. Be discreet in the way you offer drinks to avoid people making a comment.

How alcohol can harm your baby

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

How your baby will be affected will depend on:

  • how much alcohol you drink, the more you drink the greater the risk
  • how often you drink alcohol
  • how your body absorbs and breaks down alcohol
  • what stage of pregnancy you drink alcohol - it is particularly harmful during the first 3 months

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

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). The most serious FASD is foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) causes long-term problems for your baby. FASD affects their body, brain and development. This can create problems for them later in life.

Problems of FASD include:

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

Foetal alcohol spectrum syndrome (FAS)

Foetal alcohol spectrum syndrome (FAS) is caused by drinking heavily during pregnancy.

As well as all the signs of FASD, your baby may be smaller than normal or underweight and have:

  • damage to their brain and spinal cord
  • an unusually small head or eyes
  • abnormally-shaped facial features or ears
  • problems with their heart and other body organs

There is no cure. Diagnosing and treating the symptoms early can help a child to manage better.

page last reviewed: 06/12/2018
next review due: 06/12/2021