Skip to main content

Alcohol during pregnancy

Find out the risks to your baby if you drink when pregnant and tips for an alcohol-free pregnancy.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can interfere with how your baby develops.

Whenever you drink alcohol during pregnancy, it passes from your blood to your baby through the placenta. There is no safe time to drink alcohol when you are pregnant.

An alcohol-free pregnancy is best for your baby

If you're trying to get pregnant, it's a good idea to stop drinking alcohol. This is because you may be a few weeks pregnant by the time you find out.

If you're pregnant and have been drinking alcohol

You should 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.

Call the HSE Alcohol and Drugs Helpline if you are worried about your drinking. This phone line is free and confidential. Health professionals offer advice and information on the phone line

HSE Alcohol and Drugs Helpline

Phone number: 1800 459 459
Email: helpline@hse.ie
Monday to Friday: 9.30am to 5.30pm

Alcohol can harm your baby

Drinking alcohol when pregnant can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) including fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and other alcohol-related birth defects. These conditions can be caused by any amount of drinking in pregnancy.

FAS is a serious condition generally caused by drinking more than advised by the HSE's low-risk drinking guidelineswhile you are pregnant. It is usually diagnosed when the baby is born, because of the visible physical changes it causes.

FASD can be caused by drinking alcohol at any stage of pregnancy. The condition may not be diagnosed until the child is older and begins to have problems with language, numeracy and behavioural problems like hyperactivity, poor social skills and judgement.

There is no cure for FASD or FAS but diagnosing and treating the symptoms early can help a child to manage better.

Babies born with FASD can have:

  • a below average birth weight
  • problems with eating and sleeping
  • hyperactivity and poor attention
  • problems with behaviour
  • learning difficulties and a lower IQ
  • problems making and keeping friends
  • emotional and mental health problems

Babies and children with FAS have symptoms of FASD as well as:

  • being smaller than normal or underweight
  • having damage to their brain and spinal cord
  • having unusually small heads or eyes
  • abnormal facial features
  • having problems with their heart, skeleton, kidneys, eyes and ears

Tips for an alcohol-free pregnancy

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

It might help you to:

  • explain your reasons for not drinking to those around you - ask them to support your decision
  • plan alcohol-free activities

If you're not ready to tell people you are pregnant, prepare a response if you are offered an alcoholic drink.

How to support an alcohol-free pregnancy

Partners, relatives and friends can support you to have an alcohol-free pregnancy if they:

  • reduce their drinking or give up for a while
  • don't create pressure on you to drink
  • make social events easier - organise alcohol-free drinks and be discreet in the way they offer you drinks
  • are supportive - making healthy lifestyle choices in pregnancy is not always easy

You will find information more tips on how alcohol affects your health on the HSE's Ask About Alcohol website

Page last reviewed: 06/12/2018
Next review due: 06/12/2021