Alcohol and Pregnancy

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Alcohol and pregnancyInformation and advice for mothers-to-be who have questions about alcohol during pregnancy.

When you’re pregnant it can seem like you are being bombarded with information.  There are hundreds of leaflets, books, magazines and websites all about what to do and not to do for the next nine months of your life. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to go for trustworthy advice.

This is especially true when it comes to knowing how much you can drink when you’re pregnant.

Read on to cut through the confusion and find out the key truths about alcohol and pregnancy.

1. The government issues official guidance on drinking while you’re pregnant

The Department of Health recommends that pregnant women, or women trying for a baby, should avoid alcohol altogether. If they do choose to drink, to minimise risk to the baby, the government’s advice is to not have more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week, and not to get drunk. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is the independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on promoting good health and preventing and treating ill health. NICE additionally advises that the risks of miscarriage in the first three months of pregnancy mean that it is particularly important for women not to drink alcohol at all during that period (1).

2. The healthiest option is not to drink when you’re pregnant

Scientists aren’t sure about the precise impact drinking small amounts of alcohol can have on unborn babies. They do know, however, that high alcohol consumption can be harmful during pregnancy (2). So, you might decide that the safest option for you is to avoid alcohol for nine months. Of course, it’s your body and your choice. If you do decide to drink when you’re pregnant, it is extremely important that you know what a unit of alcohol actually is.

3. Alcohol can affect the development of your unborn baby

Drinking any more than one to two units once or twice a week means you could be putting your baby’s health at serious risk. When you drink, the alcohol crosses from your bloodstream through the placenta into your baby’s blood. How a baby will be affected depends on how much its mother drinks and at what point in her pregnancy. Damage to the organs and nervous system through heavy drinking is most likely to happen in the first three months. That’s because your baby’s liver doesn’t mature until the second half of pregnancy so it cannot process alcohol as well as you can (3).

4. Drink heavily while you’re pregnant and it could affect your baby’s health

The more you drink the greater the risk you are taking with your baby’s health. Miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, small birth weight, and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) are all associated with a mother’s binge drinking – consuming more than six units on one occasion whilst pregnant.

5. If you’re trying to conceive, think about how much you’re drinking

Official government guidance advises that if you’re trying to have a baby, you should stop drinking. This is to protect the baby in case you’re pregnant and don’t realise it. However, alcohol doesn’t cause problems only once you are pregnant. There is good scientific evidence that alcohol can reduce fertility in both men and women. It’s another reason why, if you’re trying to have a baby, both you and your partner might want to cut back on drinking.




What is a unit of alcohol?

The alcohol content of drinks is measured in units. One drink is hardly ever just one unit. Even a small (125ml) glass of wine or a half pint of standard beer has one-and-a-half units. One unit is actually 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. This equals one 25ml single measure of whisky (ABV 40%), a third of a pint of beer (ABV 5-6%) or half a standard (175ml) glass of red wine (ABV 12%).ABV stands for Alcohol By Volume, which is the percentage of the drink that is pure alcohol.


Staying in control

There is little clear evidence to show that drinking a maximum of one or two units, once or twice a week will have any adverse effect on your baby.

Here are three ways to keep your drinking under control if you’re pregnant or trying to have a baby.


  1. Stand firm. If you’re out with friends or colleagues, you may be under pressure to drink, especially if you haven’t announced your pregnancy yet. Tell them you’re driving, on a health kick, or simply stick to soft drinks.
  2. Start slowly. If you are trying to conceive, try cutting down your units gradually. Start off by reducing your drinking each day, and then try having a few alcohol-free days a week.
  3. Get support. Ask your partner to help you by cutting down their drinking as well. If you are trying to conceive this is vital, as drinking impairs sperm count and heavy drinking can cause temporary impotence.

Further information

Your GP can help you figure out if you should make any changes to your drinking, and offer help and advice along the way. Or talk to your midwife about alcohol and pregnancy.


Frequently asked questions:

Give your baby the best start possible.

Pregnancy is a turning point in life, a time for new beginnings. A healthy start is important – for you and your baby. Choose not to drink any alcohol during your pregnancy,

What might happen if I drink alcohol when I am pregnant?

pregnanant-womanDrinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause permanent birth defects and brain damage to your baby. To help your baby be as healthy as possible, stop drinking alcohol.

Is there a safe time to drink alcohol?

There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Your baby’s brain is developing throughout pregnancy. The safest choice during pregnancy is no alcohol at all. In fact, it is best to stop drinking before you get pregnant.

What if I had a couple of drinks before I knew I was pregnant?

Many pregnancies are not planned. Having a small amount of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant is not likely to harm your baby. You can help your baby by stopping drinking.


Is it OK to have a few drinks at a special event?

It is best not to drink any alcohol during your pregnancy. There is no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy.

Are some types of alcohol less harmful?

Any type of alcohol can harm your baby (beer, coolers, wine or spirits). Binge drinking and heavy drinking are very harmful to an unborn baby. What is FASD?

FASD or Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a term that describes the full range of harm that is caused by alcohol use in pregnancy. If a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, her baby may have:

-brain damage -vision and hearing difficulties -bones, limbs and fingers that are not properly formed -heart, kidney, liver and other organ damage -slow growth

Brain damage means that a child may have serious difficulties with:

-learning -remembering -thinking things through -getting along with others

Do children with FASD grow out of their problems, There are many things teachers and parents can do to help children with FASD. However, FASD is a life-long problem. Teens or adults with FASD may have:

-depression -trouble with the law -drug or alcohol problems -difficulty living on their own -trouble keeping a job If the father drinks alcohol, it will not cause FASD. However, fathers should also try to be as healthy as possible before and during pregnancy. Partners, family and friends can help pregnant women to stop drinking by being supportive and encouraging.