SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- The safest option is to not drink during your pregnancy.
- If you are planning on becoming pregnant, it is safest to stop drinking while you are trying to conceive.
- Even low levels of drinking, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy, can negatively impact a child’s early development and health.
- Heavy and frequent levels of drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of harm to you and your baby.
- If you drink alcohol while you are pregnant there is no way to tell how it will affect your baby.
The latest research on alcohol and pregnancy says there is no safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy.
In fact, there are five important points to know about alcohol and pregnancy:
- The best time to stop drinking is when you’re planning on becoming pregnant.
- It is safest not to drink alcohol at all while you're pregnant.
- The risk to your developing baby is highest when you frequently drink high levels of alcohol.
- There is evidence to suggest that even low-level drinking, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy, can result in long-term negative effects to the baby.
- Every pregnant person and their developing baby are different, so there's no way to tell how your alcohol consumption will affect your developing baby.
Drinking alcohol puts your developing baby at risk
When you drink, your developing baby can get about the same concentration of alcohol from your blood.
This can harm your baby's developing brain and restrict its physical and cognitive growth and development.
Some of the most serious risks of exposing your developing baby to alcohol are:
- slowed fetal growth
- low birth weight
- premature birth
- (losing a baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy)
- (a baby being born dead after 24 weeks of pregnancy)
- a range of physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities that are collectively called ).
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 fetal alcohol exposure.
There is currently no information on the level of alcohol consumption that causes , therefore avoiding alcohol during pregnancy is recommended as a preventative measure.
It’s not known how many people have FASD in Australia. Experts suspect there are many unreported cases. The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found one quarter (25 per cent) of women continued to drink after finding out they were pregnant.
Drinking alcohol also puts pregnant people at risk
People who drink while pregnant may also put their own health at risk, due to effects such as:
- vomiting and dehydration
- high blood pressure
- nutritional deficiency
- gestational diabetes.
There's no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy
- while you are pregnant
- when you are trying to conceive
- while you are breastfeeding (because the alcohol can pass into the breast milk and may affect a baby's feeding and sleeping patterns, and physical and cognitive development).
Heavy drinking – drinking daily or binge drinking – carries the greatest risk to your developing baby, but even one or two drinks a week may still cause damage to your developing baby.
See the NHMRC 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
The risk to your developing baby from low-level drinking before you know you’re pregnant is not fully understood but may affect the developing baby.
It is recommended that you stop drinking as soon as you know you are pregnant to help prevent any potential harm.
How does alcohol affect sperm?
Studies suggest that the quality of sperm is significantly reduced if you drink alcohol regularly. This reduces the chances of getting pregnant.
It is also thought that alcohol consumption before conception also affects sperm. This 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.
When pregnant people have support from people around them, it can make saying no to alcohol a lot easier. Studies have also suggested that women are less likely to drink during their pregnancies if their partners also abstain.
Where to get help
If you're having trouble reducing or stopping your alcohol consumption, talk to:
- , The Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.
- , 2009, National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government.
- , 2016, Telethon Kids Institute, Australia.
- , 2017, Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia.
- , Australian Institute of Family Studies, Australian Government.
- '', O'Keeffe LM, Kearney PM, Greene RA et al, 2015, Drug and alcohol dependence, vol. 153, pp. 323–329.
- , 2017, Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia.
- ‘’, Muggli E, Matthews H, Penington A, et al. 2017 JAMA Pediatrics, vol. 171, no. 8, pp. 771–780.