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Alcohol and pregnancy


Pregnancy is a time when many women want to know what they can do to keep themselves and their baby healthy. One of the best things you can do is to avoid drinking alcohol while you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.


Why should I avoid alcohol during pregnancy?

Alcohol can damage your baby’s developing brain and body.  Drinking while pregnant doesn’t mean your baby will definitely be harmed, but it can happen, and the effects may not be evident at birth.

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?

Alcohol causes two types of problems:

  • foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), and
  • foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

FAS and FASD are only caused by alcohol.  An alcohol-free pregnancy means there is no risk of FASD or FAS

What problems does FASD cause?

FASD causes problems with a baby’s body, brain, behaviour and can cause problems throughout a person’s life.

For example:

  • 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 and sleeping,
  • Emotional and mental health problems.


What is FAS?

Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is more serious and can happen when you drink heavily during your pregnancy. In addition to all the signs of FASD listed above, your baby may:

  • be smaller than normal or underweight,
  • have damage to their brain and spinal cord,
  • have an abnormally small head or eyes, abnormally-shaped ears or facial features,
  • have problems with their heart and genitals.


Can FAS and FASD be cured?

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

Read more about the problems linked to FASD and FAS

Why are some babies affected and not others?

Doctors can’t say exactly what will happen to a baby if a woman drinks alcohol. It depends on different things.

For example:

  • How much alcohol you drink – the more you drink, the greater the risk,
  • How often you drink alcohol,
  • When you drink during pregnancy,
  • How your body absorbs and breaks down the alcohol.

 Read more about why alcohol's effects on unborn babies can vary.

Will the occasional drink do any harm?

There is no proven level of safe drinking during pregnancy, but heavy or frequent drinking is more dangerous.


Is it safe to drink after the first 3 months?

Drinking alcohol at any time during pregnancy can cause damage. This is because your baby’s brain develops throughout pregnancy.

 Drinking, especially heavy drinking during the first three months of pregnancy, is particularly harmful. This is the time when your baby’s body organs and facial features are developing.

No amount of alcohol during pregnancy is risk-free.

What should I do if I have already drunk alcohol during my pregnancy?

  • Stop drinking alcohol for the rest of your pregnancy. The less your baby is exposed to alcohol over the course of the pregnancy, the greater their chance for healthy brain growth and development.
  • If you drink regularly and you find it hard to stop, you may be reluctant to speak about your drinking. Your GP, midwife or obstetrician can help and support you. You can also call the HSE Alcohol and Drugs Helpline for free on 1800 459 459 and speak in confidence with a professional.


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.

What should I do if I’m planning a family?

If you are planning to become pregnant, giving up alcohol while you are trying to conceive (get pregnant) as well as during the pregnancy will avoid any possible risk to your baby.

 Download our Alcohol and Pregnancy leaflet

Read more ...Tips for an alcohol-free pregnancy

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