The effects of drinking alcohol while pregnant

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling, a midwife for over 25 years, is the Director of Midwifery Studies at UTS. She believes research, innovation and good quality midwifery are pivotal to the well-being of mothers and young families. Christine has extensive experience in antenatal education, policy development and research, and has published on workforce issues, homebirth, vaginal birth...
Updated on Jun 14, 2024 · 2 mins read
The effects of drinking alcohol while pregnant

When you fall pregnant, it can seem like you are suddenly having to go without a number of things that you enjoy – sushi, soft cheese, cold meats – and then add to that alcohol too.

And when it comes to the question of whether or not it is safe to drink alcohol while pregnant, the answers can be varied and confusing, depending on who you speak to.

Our parent’s generation likely enjoyed a tipple during pregnancy, and many people still continue to do so (it’s believed around 40-50% of Aussie mums-to-be), current research says that it is best to consume no alcohol during pregnancy at all.

The National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia’s peak body on developing national health advice, recommends that for women who are pregnant, planning pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

Alcohol is considered a toxin and this passes through the placenta to reach the baby and can cause birth defects and other complications.

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Health, the risks from drinking alcohol during pregnancy include:

  • Increased risk of stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight
  • Increased risk of miscarriage
  • Increased risk of birth defects
  • Damage to the baby’s brain causing conditions known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

The effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder are life-long and can include:

  • Brain damage
  • Physical and emotional developmental delay
  • Impaired speech and language development
  • Learning problems, e.g. poor memory
  • Difficulty controlling behaviour

Further research is needed to conclude exactly how much alcohol will have an effect on your unborn baby, and so while some older recommendations had suggested that consuming one to two standard drinks a week was relatively safe, these latest guidelines say no amount is considered safe and best to avoid it altogether.

While many women often don’t know they are pregnant until 4 or 5 (or more) weeks in, there can be some worry that you unknowingly consumed alcohol during this time, so if you are worried, speak with your doctor or contact the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby Helpline on 1800 882 436 for more information and support.

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