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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

You are advised to 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 a local substance misuse service 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, aim to stop drinking 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 try to avoid triggers ( people and places) which remind you of drinking.
  • If it feels right for you, share your reasons for not drinking with those close to you and ask them to support your decision.
  • Plan and prepare for 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. Do not 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.

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

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

People with FASD may also have problems with:

  • completing education
  • managing their finances
  • holding down a job
  • coming more into contact with the Justice system
  • developing addictions or substance abuse
  • finding and keeping a permanent home

Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

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

FAS may be diagnosed when the baby is born due to the typical, visible facial characteristics, but in many cases the diagnosis is missed at birth.

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

The problems caused by FASD and FAS are permanent and irreversible. They are lifelong disorders. Diagnosing and treating the symptoms early can help a child affected by them to manage better.

FASD is more common than FAS. For every case of FAS there are at least 10 cases of FASD.

page last reviewed: 04/09/2020
next review due: 04/09/2023