How can alcohol harm my unborn baby?
Most women give alcohol up completely in pregnancy because this is the safest way. When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your baby. There is no known safe level for drinking during pregnancy, so the safest approach is not to drink at all while you're pregnant and if you are trying for a baby.
It is particularly advised not to drink alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy as this is a time of huge growth and development.
If you do decide to drink, it is recommended that you do not drink alcohol in the first three months and thereafter limit yourself to no more than one or two units, not more than once or twice a week.
What could happen if I drink heavily?
Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby and the more you drink, the greater the risk.
Getting drunk and/or drinking every day are especially dangerous.
Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol at any stage during pregnancy is linked to the following:
- early miscarriage
- premature birth
- brain development in the womb
- restricted growth in the womb
- illness in childhood and infancy
- foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
What is foetal alcohol syndrome?
Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the name given to problems that are found in children whose mothers drank heavily during pregnancy. These include facial abnormalities, heart defects, poor growth and severe mental and developmental problems.
What if I drank alcohol before I knew I was pregnant?
If you drank a lot before you knew you were pregnant and are worried about the effect this may have on your baby, talk to your midwife or GP.
They will probably reassure you that the risk to your baby is small if you weren’t a regular heavy drinker. You can stop drinking completely now that you know you’re pregnant.
The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be low if you were not binge drinking or regularly drinking over the recommended amount.
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 health team caring for you during your pregnancy can give you advice and support. You can also contact Drinkline, a free and confidential helpline, on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am - 8pm, weekends 11am - 4pm).
Is my drinking is out of control?
Some women know they are drinking too much but don't feel able to talk about it. It's easy to feel guilty or ashamed because you know you shouldn’t be drinking alcohol in pregnancy.
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 won't judge you and they can put you in touch with more support if you need it.
Getting support with alcohol
If you have difficulty giving up alcohol, talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist. They will not judge you and will want to support you.
- Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you're worried about your own or someone else's drinking, call this free helpline on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am - 8pm, weekends 11am - 4pm).
- Addaction is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities to manage the effects of alcohol and drug misuse.
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Its "12-step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.
Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a condition that a baby may develop if a woman drinks alcohol during her pregnancy.
Anonymous social media app, Whisper, shared confessions from women who continued to drink alcohol when pregnant. They opened up about how often they drank and how it made them feel.
One in 13 women who consume alcohol in pregnancy will go on to have a child with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
In pregnancy it's important to eat well. If you are used to eating foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat, you can make a few changes that will be good for you and your baby.
The amount of alcohol in a drink is measured in 'units'. One unit refers to 10ml of alcohol.
Avoiding alcohol may be easy if, like lots of women, you go off the taste early in your pregnancy. But for some others, it can be a challenge.
- RCOG (2016) Alcohol and pregnancy. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London, England https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/alcohol-and-pregnancy/
- NHS Choices [accessed 27/06/2017]‘Low-level drinking in early pregnancy “harms baby”’, Behind the headlines http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/03March/Pages/Low-level-drinking-in-early-pr...
- Nykjaer C, Alwan NA, Greenwood DC et al. (2014) ‘Maternal alcohol intake prior to and during pregnancy and risk of adverse birth outcomes: evidence from a British cohort’,
- Patra J et al. (2011). “Dose response relationship between alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy and the risk of low birthweight, preterm and small for gestational age (SGA)- a systematic review and meta-analyses.” BJOG 2011;118:1411-1421
- May PA, et al. (2011). “Maternal risk factors predicting child physical characteristics and dysmorphology in fetal alcohol syndrome and partial fetal alcohol syndrome.” Drug and alcohol dependence 2011;119:18-27
- Drinkaware [accessed 27/06/2017] Binge drinking https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/understand-your-drinking/is-your-drinking-a...
ℹLast reviewed on June 27th, 2017. Next review date April 27th, 2020.
By Jack (not verified) on 1 May 2019 - 12:38
My GF just found out she is several months pregnant and has been heavily drinking, smoking and some cocaine use up until now. Although she has stopped everything, she is very afraid the damage to the baby has already been done. What is the likelihood of this?
By nepoh (not verified) on 7 Jun 2019 - 02:23
Hi i'm not here to give an answer but im in the same situation too, im so worried it's best she speak to her obgyn about it.. mine said for as long as i dont continue i should be fine but i dont know im so worried.
By Anonymous (not verified) on 6 Mar 2019 - 18:11
Good day I had a child with spinal bifida with high chronic hydrocephalus but fortunately she past away on the 1/02/2019 she was born in 15/11/2018 I am scared if I get pregnant again she will have the same thing please help me
By Midwife @Tommys on 7 Mar 2019 - 11:58
Hi - Thank you for your message.
I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your daughter. You may find it helpful to speak to other people affected by spina bifida.
Shine, the spina bifida and hydrocephalus charity, can provide you with details about local support groups and organisations.
You can find and contact your regional Shine team or read about support for carers on the Shine website.
Women thought to be at higher risk of having a child (such as yourself) with spina bifida need to be prescribed a higher (5 milligram) dose of folic acid by their GP.
Your GP can advise you further about this.
By Becky (not verified) on 23 Jun 2018 - 11:14
If uve been out and been drinking the night before can I still test in the morning or will the alcohol in my system mess with the test?
By Midwife @Tommys on 25 Jun 2018 - 14:58
Hi, I'm unsure what question you are asking. If you think that you may be pregnant I would advise that you don't drink any alcohol.
By Secret (not verified) on 7 Feb 2018 - 17:18
My wife is in 8 month pregnant and she drink very heavy vodka she dont want to stop. Is it mean she dont want the babe. Need answer please.
By Midwife @Tommys on 8 Feb 2018 - 13:17
Thank you for your comment. I am very concerned to hear that your wife is continuing to drink alcohol during her pregnancy. The safest advice is for pregnant women not drink at all as alcohol can have serious effects on a baby's growth and development. I have attached some links with further information and advice about more support.
Have you been able to discuss your wife's drinking with her midwife or GP-I don't know if her drinking means she doesn't want the baby, but she needs extra support to reduce her alcohol intake for both hers and the baby's health. Her midwife may refer her to a specialist midwife team who give extra support and care to women with alcohol problems.
You can also contact Drinkline, a free and confidential helpline, on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am - 8pm, weekends 11am - 4pm).
Please do not hesitate to contact us again or call Tommy's PregnancyLine 0800 0147 800
By Anonymous (not verified) on 22 Dec 2017 - 14:40
Hey im roughly 6 weeks pregnant with my second child and found out early that i was pregnant.(my period was like an alarm,bang on every month so took a test when i was late ) any way i have been drinking becks blue when with friends as its the christmas season and have found out there is alcohol in them even tho it says alcohol free will baby be OK?
By Midwife @Tommys on 22 Dec 2017 - 15:17
The amount of alcohol in the beer is minimal so that is reassuring, However I would advise you to stop drinking it especially for the first 3 months of pregnancy.
Please call if you have any further questions.
By Korsty (not verified) on 9 Sep 2017 - 00:56
Hi is alcohol free beers safe to drink like 2/3 once a week? Thanks x
By Midwife @Tommys on 11 Sep 2017 - 16:35
Hi - it depends on if the beer is low alcohol or alcohol free. You should be able to find out this information on the label - we'd advise caution as some alcohol free drinks contain small amounts of alcohol which can add up if drank a few times a week.
Have a look at our advice on a enjoying an alcohol free pregnancy
By Jackie Palmer (not verified) on 9 Dec 2018 - 19:20
The labels often say 'alcohol free', but then say 'no more than 0.05% alcohol' in the fine print, which is confusing. Is 0.05% ok?
By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Dec 2018 - 13:17
Hi Jackie, Thank you for your comment.
You can buy alcohol free products but with any amount of alcohol we recommend that you use caution in pregnancy. The gold standard would be to avoid alcohol in pregnancy so going for alcohol free options is much more healthier for your pregnancy. Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x
By Anonymous (not verified) on 24 Jun 2017 - 16:53
what if you want to go out and have a couple of drinks while your pregnant? like once every 3 months or so?
By Midwife @Tommys on 26 Jun 2017 - 11:08
Have a look at our top tips for an alcohol free pregnancy https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/im-pregnant/alcohol-pregnancy/tips-alcohol-free-pregnancy