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.
On this page
If you're pregnant -- or trying to get pregnant -- you may be wondering whether it's okay to drink alcohol.
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
- miscarriage (losing a baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy)
- stillbirth (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 (FASD).
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 FASD, 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
The Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) say it's safest not to drink at all:
- 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.
You may want to talk to your healthcare professional for support to stop drinking, as this can be difficult to manage on your own. See Alcohol and pregnancy on The Royal Women's Hospital website.
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.
See Pregnant Pause, where partners and friends can make an alcohol-free pledge in support of their pregnant partner or friend.
Where to get help
If you're having trouble reducing or stopping your alcohol consumption, talk to:
- Your GP (doctor) or midwife
- DirectLine alcohol and drug counselling and referral Tel. 1800 888 236
- Women's Alcohol and Drug Service Tel. (03) 8345 3931
- National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (NOFASD) Tel. 1300 306 238
- your local community health service
- Family Drug Help Tel. 1300 660 068
- DrugInfo for free confidential advice on alcohol and other drugs Tel. 1300 85 85 84
- Alcohol and pregnancy, The Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.
- Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, 2009, National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government.
- FASD diagnostic guidelines, 2016, Telethon Kids Institute, Australia.
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), 2017, Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia.
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: A national diagnostic tool and a guide to its use, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Australian Government.
- 'Maternal alcohol use during pregnancy and offspring trajectories of height and weight: A prospective cohort study', O'Keeffe LM, Kearney PM, Greene RA et al, 2015, Drug and alcohol dependence, vol. 153, pp. 323–329.
- Preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, 2017, Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia.
- ‘Association between prenatal alcohol exposure and craniofacial shape of children at 12 months of age’, Muggli E, Matthews H, Penington A, et al. 2017 JAMA Pediatrics, vol. 171, no. 8, pp. 771–780.