Most people stop drinking alcohol completely in when they know they are pregnant, because this is the safest thing for a developing baby. Alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your baby. There is no known safe level for drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
It is recommended that you avoid alcohol while you are pregnant and if you are trying for a baby. This is especially important during the first 3 months of pregnancy (the first trimester), when your baby is growing and developing quickly.
If you find it hard to avoid alcohol, talk to a midwife, doctor or pharmacist. They will not judge you and will understand that you are trying to do your best to keep your baby safe. They will be able to get you any extra support you need.
How can alcohol harm my baby?
Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby and the more you drink, the greater the risk.
Drinking alcohol at any stage during pregnancy has been linked to complications such as miscarriage, premature birth and low birth-weight. Drinking later in pregnancy can also affect your baby after they are born.
Evidence shows that drinking heavily (more than 6 units of alcohol a day) can cause your baby to develop Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is a serious condition with symptoms including poor growth, distinct facial features and learning and behavioural problems for your child. There is no known safe level for drinking alcohol during pregnancy, which is why advice is to avoid it completely.
What if I drank alcohol before I knew I was pregnant?
If you drank alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, try not to worry. The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be low if you were only drinking small amounts. If you are worried you can talk to your midwife or GP. The important thing to remember is that avoiding alcohol once you find out you are pregnant will help keep your baby safe.
Is my drinking out of control?
Some women know they are drinking too much but do not feel able to talk about it. You may not realise that drinking alcohol has become an issue if you are drinking little and often. Or you might be hiding the fact you are drinking alcohol because you fear being judged.
Everyone who cares for you during your pregnancy wants you to be well and to have a healthy baby. Cutting down or stopping on your own can be difficult, and you may need help.
Talk to your doctor or midwife, they will not judge you and they can offer you more support if you need it.
What if I need help to stop drinking?
If you drink heavily and you think you may have problems stopping, talk to your doctor or midwife. This is because you may have withdrawal symptoms. These can include delirium tremens (DTs), and you will need help to manage them. The healthcare team caring for you during your pregnancy can give you advice and support.
Here are some organisations that can also support you:
- We Are With You – a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities manage the effects of alcohol and drug misuse
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – a free self-help group; its "12-step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups
- NOFAS-UK – helpline on 020 8458 5951
Alcohol unit calculator
If you decide to drink when you are pregnant, it is important to know how many units you are drinking. This is because your risk increases the more you drink.
The more units in a drink, the stronger it is. The percent numbers (%) you see on the label of the bottle or can will tell you how much of the drink is pure alcohol. This is called the ABV (Alcohol by Volume).
Most people choose to give alcohol up completely as this is the safest thing for a developing baby.