Skip to main content

Alcohol and pregnancy

If you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is to avoid drinking any alcohol. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to your baby, and the more you drink, the greater the risk.   

If you would like further support with your drinking then ask your midwife or GP to refer you to the Specialist Midwife service. 

What to do if you become pregnant and have been drinking alcohol 

If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant then you are advised to avoid drinking alcohol.  

The risks of miscarriage in the first three months of pregnancy mean that it is particularly important that women avoid alcohol during this period. Please note that drinking alcohol carries risks throughout the whole pregnancy, not only for the first three months.  

If you are already pregnant and drank small amounts of alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy, the risk of harm to your baby is low. You can speak to your GP or midwife if you are worried about this.  

Crossing the Placenta  

When you drink alcohol, this passes from your bloodstream through the placenta directly into your baby’s blood. The effects on the baby will depend on how much the mother drinks and the mother’s metabolism. 

A baby's liver is one of the last organs to develop and doesn't mature until the later stages of pregnancy. Your baby cannot process alcohol as well as you can, and too much exposure to alcohol can seriously affect their development. Drinking alcohol, especially in the first three months of pregnancy, increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and your baby having a low birth weight. Drinking after the first three months of your pregnancy could affect your baby after they are born.  

Effects of alcohol use in pregnancy  

Drinking alcohol in pregnancy may lead to a serious condition called Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, small birth weight, and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) can also be associated with drinking alcohol during pregnancy.  

Children with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) have:   

  • Poor growth   
  • Facial abnormalities   
  • Learning and behavioural problems   

Drinking in small amounts, or even drinking heavily on single occasions, may be associated with lesser forms of FAS. The risk is likely to be greater the more you drink.  

Alcohol and breastfeeding 

The safest option is to avoid alcohol during breastfeeding as alcohol crosses into the breast milk. Regular drinking during breastfeeding may affect your baby’s development.  

Speak to your health professional if you are considering drinking alcohol whilst breastfeeding. 1 unit of Alcohol takes 2 hours to leave the breastmilk and therefore planning for any occasion would be beneficial.

Alcohol and support services

If you have difficulty cutting down what you drink, talk to a Midwife, GP or other health professional. Confidential help and support is available: