Summary

  • It is safest to stop drinking alcohol before you get pregnant and to not drink at all while you’re pregnant.
  • The risk to your unborn baby is highest when you frequently drink high levels of alcohol.
  • The risk to your unborn baby is likely to be low if you drank small amount of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant or you drink small amounts while you are pregnant.
  • There’s no way to predict how your alcohol consumption will affect your unborn baby.

If you’re pregnant – or trying to get pregnant – you may be wondering whether it’s OK to drink alcohol

All the research on alcohol and pregnancy so far is clear: there is no safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy.

In fact, there are five important points to know about alcohol and pregnancy:

  • For both women and men, it is safest to stop drinking alcohol before you conceive. 
  • It is safest not to drink alcohol at all while you’re pregnant.
  • The risk to your unborn baby is highest when you frequently drink high levels of alcohol. 
  • The risk to your unborn baby is likely to be low if you drank small amounts of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant.
  • Every woman and unborn baby is different, so there’s no way to predict how your alcohol consumption will affect your unborn baby. 

Drinking alcohol puts your unborn baby at risk 

When you’re pregnant, the alcohol you drink passes from your blood to your baby’s blood through the placenta. 
When you drink, your unborn baby can get about the same concentration of alcohol in its blood as you do in yours. This alcohol can potentially harm your baby’s developing brain and restrict its growth and development. 
Some of the most serious risks of exposing your unborn baby to alcohol are: 

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a range of physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities that someone may experience due to their mother consuming excessive amounts (quantity unknown) of alcohol during pregnancy. 

It’s not known how common FASD is in Australia, but experts suspect there are more cases than are reported. The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found one quarter (26 per cent) of women continued to drink after finding out they were pregnant. 
Read more about FASD.

Drinking alcohol also puts pregnant women at risk 

Women who drink while pregnant may also put their own health at risk, due to effects such as:

  • vomiting and dehydration
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes.

There’s no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy

  • Australia’s national guidelines for alcohol consumption from the National Health and Medical Research Council say it’s safest not to drink at all: 
  • during pregnancy
  • when trying to conceive
  • while breastfeeding (because the alcohol can pass into the breast milk and affect a baby’s feeding and sleeping patterns, and psychomotor development). 

Heavy drinking – daily or in binges – carries the greatest risk to your unborn baby, but even one or two drinks a week may still cause damage to your unborn baby (although this risk is likely to be small). See the guidelines for more advice on levels of drinking and standard drinks in Australia.
If you’re having trouble reducing or stopping your alcohol consumption, talk to your healthcare professional for advice and support.

Drinking alcohol before you knew you were pregnant

If you drank alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, it may help to know the majority of babies exposed to alcohol suffer no observable harm. 

The risk to your unborn baby from low level drinking is likely to be low.
Read more about alcohol and pregnancy in this fact sheet from The Royal Women’s Hospital.

Is it okay for men to drink alcohol when trying for a baby?

Studies suggest that the quality of sperm is significantly reduced by regular alcohol consumption. This reduces the chances of a couple getting pregnant. It is also thought that a man’s alcohol consumption before conception could lead to developmental problems for the child in the future, both intellectual and physical.

Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink or cutting it out altogether three months before trying to conceive is recommended.

Remember…

  • For both women and men, it is safest to stop drinking alcohol before you conceive. 
  • It is safest not to drink alcohol at all while you’re pregnant.
  • The risk to your unborn baby is highest when you frequently drink high levels of alcohol.
  • The risk to your unborn baby is likely to be low if you drank small amounts of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, or you drink small amounts while you are pregnant.
  • There’s no way to predict how your alcohol consumption will affect your unborn baby. 

Where to get help

If you’re having trouble reducing or stopping your alcohol consumption, talk to: 

References
 

More information

Alcohol

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Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Last updated: December 2016

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.