Alcohol, pregnancy and breastfeeding

Alcohol, pregnancy and breastfeeding

We used to believe that having a glass or two of alcohol when pregnant was a good way to relax. Likewise, having a drink when breastfeeding was thought to be an option to help calm an unsettled baby.

Now we know better, it’s time to reconsider drinking practices we once thought were harmless.

What does the science say?

Some very smart minds have invested lots of time, energy and money into researching the effects of alcohol on developing babies.  And although the placenta does a brilliant job of filtering out toxins and keeping unborn babies safe from many potential risks, there’s only so much it can do.

A foetus is still forming and even at birth, many of a baby’s organs remain immature and will take years to stop growing.  Evidence has shown that the effect of alcohol can be toxic to a baby’s developing organs, especially their liver, which works as a type of sieve for any potentially harmful toxins in their body. 

There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

10 Alcohol facts

  1. What a pregnant mother drinks in the way of alcohol goes straight to the baby’s blood stream. They have the same blood alcohol content as their mother.
  2. The first trimester is the most dangerous time to drink any alcohol. This is when the baby and its organs are forming.
  3. Getting drunk when pregnant is very dangerous for the baby.
  4. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.
  5. Babies of mothers who drink are at an increased risk of being smaller at birth.
  6. Alcohol use during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of birth defects, learning and developmental disabilities.
  7. It makes no difference what the type of drink may be – wine, beer and spirits are all equally risky.
  8. Drinking heavily can cause serious and permanent damage to the baby. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diffuse (widespread) brain injury caused to the unborn baby’s brain where the baby’s brain is exposed to alcohol. Between 2-5% of the population may be affected by FASD. One of the many issues with FASD is that there is no cure or fix, and treatments can only help to manage the condition.    
  9. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is spread across every sector of society and is much more common than we think. It also causes ongoing and long-term problems in individuals which are untreatable.
  10. Reducing alcohol intake at any time during pregnancy has a significant beneficial effect. Some women find it easier to cut down and then stop drinking, others to stop ‘cold turkey’.


  • Avoid drinking any alcohol during pregnancy and when you are breastfeeding your baby. There is no considered ‘safe’ level of alcohol when pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • If you are struggling to cut back and stop, see your GP for a referral to a specialised alcohol support service. Counselling and support therapies can be incredibly helpful – you don’t need to manage on your own.
  • If you’re struggling and seeing alcohol is a ‘trigger’ for you to drink, remove all alcohol from the house. Avoid socialising with people who are drinking and ask your partner not to drink when you’re together.
  • Do some research into non-alcohol drinks which you like. Many women find soda or mineral water a good alternative.
  • Enrol in a pregnancy yoga or pilates class. Build some skills in relaxation and mindfulness techniques which will help you to calm and be an alternative to the effects of alcohol.
Written for Belly Bandit by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse.

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