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The safest approach is not to drink alcohol while pregnant

Is it safe to drink alcohol when pregnant?

Medical experts recommend that if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep the risks to your baby to a minimum. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby — the more you drink, the greater the risk.

How does alcohol affect my unborn baby?

Your baby cannot process alcohol as well as you can, and too much exposure to alcohol can seriously affect their development.

Drinking alcohol, especially in the first three months of pregnancy, increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and your baby having a low birth weight. Drinking after the first three months of your pregnancy could affect your baby after they're born.

The more you drink — the greater the risks. The effects include learning difficulties and behavioural problems.

Drinking heavily throughout pregnancy can cause your baby to develop a serious condition called foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Children with FAS have:

  • poor growth
  • facial abnormalities
  • learning and behavioural problems

Drinking less heavily, and even drinking heavily on single occasions, may be associated with lesser forms of FAS.

Finding out you are pregnant after drinking alcohol

If you find out that you're pregnant after drinking alcohol, it is recommended you avoid further drinking. However, please do not worry unnecessarily — the risks to your baby being affected are likely to be low.

Avoiding alcohol and maintaining your social life

The good news is that just because you’re pregnant, you don’t need to leave your social life behind. You can still enjoy a night out with your friends, but instead of drinking alcohol, try switching to something else. Here are a few ideas:

  • alcohol-free beer
  • alcohol-free cocktail
  • alcohol-free spirit
  • sparkling water with slices of fruit
  • juice - it counts as 1 of your 5 a day, but limit the amount to 150ml a day

Medical warning: If you have physical withdrawal symptoms (like shaking, sweating or feeling anxious) until you have a first alcoholic drink of the day, you should take medical advice before stopping completely. It can be dangerous to do this too quickly without proper advice and support.

If you would like information on alcohol support services, please click on the link.