Alcohol Health – Pregnancy

drink32Understanding how much you can drink when you’re pregnant can be confusing. Previously Government guidelines said it was OK to have the occasional drink, but now the official advice is to abstain during pregnancy. Yet other guidelines say it’s OK to drink lightly after the first three months. We can conclude from this that much more research needs to be done. Until pure scientific evidence emerges why risk any alcohol during pregnancy?

When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood, through the placenta, to your baby. A baby’s liver doesn’t mature until the second half of pregnancy. Therefore, your baby cannot process alcohol as well as you can.

It is not yet known at what exact level of alcohol intake the risk of miscarriage or damage to your baby starts to increase. But the more you drink the more you are taking a risk with your baby’s health.

  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and small birth weight have all been associated with the mother binge drinking. Binge drinking in women is defined as drinking more than six units on one occasion.
  • Other effects of drinking heavily in pregnancy include Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Around 6,000 children are born with FASD each year. Symptoms of FASD include:
      • Learning difficulties, problems with emotional development and behaviour, memory and attention deficits, hyperactivity, difficulty in organising and planning, and problems with language
      • Facial deformities
      • Being small, at birth and throughout life
      • Poor muscle tone
      • As a result of their difficulties with learning, judgement, planning and memory, people with FASD may experience additional problems. These include psychiatric problems, a disrupted education, trouble with the law, alcohol and drug problems, and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Children with FASD can have one or several of these symptoms. Children who display all of the symptoms are defined as having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

Although the healthiest option is to not to drink at all while pregnant, however, if you do drink, it is extremely important that you realise what a unit of alcohol actually is. One drink is hardly ever just one unit. Even a small (125ml) glass of wine or a half pint of standard beer has one-and-a-half units.

What if you didn’t know you were pregnant and have been drinking?

A lot of women drink in the early stages of their pregnancy – sometimes heavily – before they know they’re expecting. Stop as soon as you find out and if you’re concerned at all talk to your GP or midwife.

info32 Further Information:

info For more information and advice on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Spectrum Disorder, visit the National Organisation on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome UK’s website,, or call their helpline on 08700 333 700.