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Alcohol and pregnancy

6-minute read

Key facts

  • When you drink alcohol, it passes from your blood through the placenta to your unborn baby.
  • It is safest not to drink when you are planning to become pregnant, pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • In social situations, try swapping to a non-alcoholic drink.

How much alcohol is safe to drink when pregnant?

In Australia, drinking alcohol is very common. It is often linked to social and cultural activities.

Australia has guidelines to help lower the health risks from drinking alcohol. These include advice for people who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, and breastfeeding. They can help you to make an informed decision about how much alcohol you drink.

The guidelines advise that pregnant women should not drink alcohol. This is to stop your unborn baby being harmed by alcohol.

When you drink alcohol, so does your unborn baby. Alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your unborn baby. The placenta cannot stop the alcohol from reaching your baby.

When you are pregnant, there is:

  • no safe time to drink
  • no safe amount to drink
  • no safe type of alcohol to drink

Alcohol can harm your baby at any point during your pregnancy.

What effects does alcohol have on my unborn baby?

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can increase your chance of:

FASD is the term used to describe the effects on the baby from drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

The effects of FASD are life-long. People with FASD often need support with:

  • motor skills
  • physical health
  • learning
  • memory
  • attention
  • communication
  • emotional regulations
  • social skills

What should I do if I drank alcohol before knowing I was pregnant?

You might have drunk alcohol before you knew you were pregnant. The risk from low level drinking before you knew you were pregnant is likely to be low.

If you are concerned, speak to your doctor or midwife. You can also call NOFASD Australia on 1800 860 613 for confidential information or support.

Once you know you are pregnant, it’s safest to stop drinking.

What if I’m planning to become pregnant?

If you’re planning to become pregnant, not drinking is the safest choice for both parents. There is still a lot we don’t know about how alcohol affects sperm.

What if I’m breastfeeding?

If you’re breastfeeding your baby, not drinking is the safest choice.

When you drink, the alcohol moves from your blood into your breastmilk. It takes about 30 to 60 minutes for this to happen.

A few factors affect how much alcohol gets into your breastmilk, including:

  • the alcohol you are drinking (strength and amount)
  • what you’ve eaten
  • how much you weigh
  • how quickly you are drinking

It takes about 2 hours for an average woman to be free of alcohol from one standard drink.

If you choose to have an occasional drink, you can plan to protect your baby. You may wish to breastfeed your baby before having an alcoholic drink.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association has a Feed Safe app to help you understand when your breastmilk is free of alcohol.

How can I avoid alcohol during my pregnancy?

It can be hard to avoid alcohol in social situations, particularly when others might not know you’re pregnant. A good alternative is to have a non-alcoholic drink.

If you don’t want people to know that you are pregnant, you might also find it helpful to say:

  • No thanks, I’m on a health kick and have given up alcohol.
  • No thanks, I have to drive.
  • No thanks, I have a big day tomorrow.

If you’re happy to tell people that you are pregnant you can just say:

  • No thanks, not while I’m pregnant.

Where can I get support to give up alcohol?

If you’re finding it hard to give up alcohol while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor, midwife or obstetrician for advice.

You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse for advice and support.

You can find information about alcohol and pregnancy in languages other than English at FASD HUB.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022

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Need more information?

Frequently asked questions about alcohol and pregnancy | FASD Hub

We've answered some common questions about alcohol use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and about living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) - Alcohol and Other Drugs Knowledge Centre

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe the range of mental and physical effects on the developing unborn baby that are caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy

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How Much Alcohol is Really Safe During Pregnancy? | Hello Sunday Morning

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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) describes a range of physical, cognitive, developmental and emotional deficits attributable to alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Understanding fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) | FASD Hub

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What Is FASD? | About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder | NOFASD Australia

Babies exposed to alcohol in the womb can develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Find out what it is, how it affects the child and what you can do about it.

Read more on NOFASD - National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder website

Preventing FASD | FASD Hub

Information about preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in Australia

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Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) | Raising Children Network

When pregnant women drink alcohol, it can cause birth defects and long-term health problems for children. This is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD.

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Webinar and podcast library | FASD Hub

Catch up on webinars and podcasts about alcohol and pregnancy and FASD, hosted by the FASD Hub and other organisations around Australia.

Read more on FASD Hub Australia website

Preventing FASD | FASD Hub

It's up to all of us to support those who are pregnant, trying for a baby or breastfeeding to make the safest choice by not drinking.

Read more on FASD Hub Australia website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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