Alcohol and pregnancy
Most people know that drinking alcohol while pregnant can harm your baby, but lots of people still have questions about drinking during pregnancy.
Is it safe to drink while I am pregnant?
No it isn’t safe. If you drink alcohol while you are pregnant you are taking a risk. Drinking alcohol at any stage during pregnancy can cause harm to your baby.
Will my baby definitely be harmed if I drink alcohol?
Drinking while pregnant doesn’t mean your baby will definitely be harmed, but drinking will put him or her at risk of brain damage and other birth defects. Drinking heavily also increases the risk of miscarriage. The more you drink, the greater the risk.
Don’t drink alcohol while you are pregnant to protect your developing baby.
I’m sure I heard it’s OK to drink a little bit?
It can be confusing to make sense of the different messages you may hear about alcohol and pregnancy. You may have heard that a little bit of alcohol won’t do any harm, or you may have friends or family members who drank while they were pregnant and went on to have healthy babies.
Doctors can’t predict exactly what will happen to a baby if a woman drinks alcohol during her pregnancy. It depends on different things. For example:
- How much the woman drinks
- The stage of development of the fetus when it is exposed to alcohol
- How the woman’s body absorbs and breaks down the alcohol.
Read more about why alcohol's effects on unborn babies can vary.
Because the result of drinking during pregnancy varies from person to person, the only safe advice is not to drink alcohol at all if you want to avoid alcohol-related problems.
Why is alcohol harmful to unborn babies?
Alcohol is a teratogen. Teratogens are drugs, chemicals or other substances that affect a developing baby, causing birth defects.
Doesn’t the placenta filter out alcohol?
No. Alcohol passes from the mother’s blood into the baby’s blood via the placenta. The placenta does not act as a barrier to alcohol.
What harm does alcohol do to unborn babies?
When alcohol crosses the placenta, it can affect the brain and body of the developing baby. The name given to the problems alcohol can cause is fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). FASD includes a wide range of physical, behavioural and intellectual problems, including Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Read more about the problems linked to FASD and FAS
FASD is completely preventable by not drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Is it safe to drink after the first 3 months?
No. Drinking alcohol at any time during pregnancy can cause damage as the baby’s brain develops throughout pregnancy.
Drinking, especially binge drinking, during the first 3 months of pregnancy is particularly harmful. This is the time when the baby’s body organs and facial features are developing.
Binge drinking and drinking heavily also increases the risk of miscarriage.
Will the occasional drink do any harm?
The more you drink, the greater the risk that your baby will be harmed. There is no proven level of safe drinking during pregnancy. The only way to make sure your unborn child is safe and protected from alcohol related problems is not to drink at all.
What to do if you have already drunk alcohol during your pregnancy
Try to stop drinking alcohol for the remainder of the pregnancy and while breast feeding. The less your baby is exposed to alcohol over the course of the pregnancy, the greater the chance for healthy brain growth and development. The baby’s brain continues to grow and develop throughout pregnancy, so it’s worthwhile to stop alcohol at any stage of pregnancy.
If you are worried or need medical advice, talk to your GP, gynaecologist or midwife.
Does a father’s drinking affect the baby?
No. Only the mother’s drinking affects the baby’s development. But fathers can make a difference by helping the mother to avoid alcohol during pregnancy.
Don’t drink alcohol while you are pregnant if you want to protect your developing baby.