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Alcohol and pregnancy

3-minute read

If you’re pregnant, you’ll need to think carefully about what is safe to eat and drink, and what medicines you can take. Drinking alcohol while pregnant can be harmful to your unborn baby.

How much alcohol is safe to drink when pregnant?

Whether you are planning a pregnancy, already pregnant or breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option as alcohol can harm your unborn baby.

How much you drink matters. The more you drink, the more likely it is that the baby will suffer some harm. The more alcohol and the more frequently alcohol is consumed during pregnancy, the higher the risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). This is a range of physical, cognitive, developmental and emotional problems caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

There is no research that supports even having an occasional drink will do little harm. Experts say that there is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy.

So not drinking at all while you’re pregnant is the safest option.

What effects does alcohol have on an unborn baby?

When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your unborn baby. It can affect the development of the baby’s brain, spinal cord and other organs.

The first trimester is the time when the baby’s organs are developing most quickly, so that is the time of highest risk of harm to your baby. However there is no safe time to have alcohol during your pregnancy.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and FASD.

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

It’s possible that you drank alcohol in the first few weeks of your pregnancy, when you didn’t know you were pregnant. The risk from low level drinking before you knew you were pregnant is likely to be low. But once you know you are pregnant, it’s safest to avoid drinking for the rest of your pregnancy and during breastfeeding.

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

What if I’m planning to become pregnant?

If you’re planning to become pregnant, not drinking is the safest option. That will give your baby the best chance.

Tips to avoid alcohol during pregnancy

It can be hard to avoid alcohol in social situations, particularly in the earlier stages when others might not know about your pregnancy. You might feel pressured to behave like you normally would, which may include drinking.

Pregnancy is a natural stage of life and shouldn’t stop you from socialising. But if you are in a situation where drinking is involved, a good alternative is to have a non-alcoholic drink you enjoy. You might also find it helpful to say:

  • No, thank you, I’m not drinking tonight.
  • No, thank you, I have to drive.
  • I have a big day/early meeting tomorrow so no thanks.
  • I’m not feeling the best so would rather not, thanks.

If you’re used to drinking at home, perhaps at the end of the day to relax, you might consider alternatives like taking a bath, going for a walk or reading a book.

Where to find support to give up alcohol

If you’re finding it hard to give up alcohol while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it might help to talk to your doctor, midwife or obstetrician for advice and treatment, and to friends and family for support.

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

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

Last reviewed: May 2020


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Need more information?

Understanding fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) | FASD Hub

Introduction to understanding more about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in Australia

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Common myths about alcohol use and pregnancy | FASD Hub

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Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a name given to a range of conditions. Learn more about FASD and the risks with drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

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

Read more on Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet website

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

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) | Raising Children Network

Drinking alcohol in pregnancy can cause birth defects and long-term health problems for babies and children. This is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Preventing FASD | FASD Hub

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

Read more on FASD Hub website

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder - NT.GOV.AU

Diagnosis, symptoms and treatment of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

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Pregnancy - Pregnancy Topics - Alcohol while planning a pregnancy

Yes, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can harm a baby

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Pregnancy - Pregnancy Topics - Alcohol during pregnancy

If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, no alcohol is the safest choice Alcohol crosses the placenta to the developing baby The alcohol will reach the developing baby very quickly and its blood alcohol level will be the same as yours Alcohol can cause permanent harm to a developing baby at any stage during the pregnancy Alcohol can affect the baby's body and in particular the baby's brain development You can't see the brain and you might not know if the baby is OK or not until the child is older

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network 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?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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