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Alcohol in pregnancy: taking care of your unborn baby

The Department of Health recommends that you should avoid drinking alcohol if you’re pregnant.

You should also avoid drinking alcohol if you’re trying for a baby or planning to do so, as many women don’t realise they’re pregnant until some weeks into their pregnancy.

If you do choose to drink, protect your unborn baby by not drinking more than 1-2 units of alcohol – equivalent to one small glass of wine or half a pint of lager – once or twice a week. Don’t get drunk and avoid binge drinking. For women, binge drinking means drinking more than 6 units of alcohol a day. More information about alcohol units is available from NHS Choices.

How does alcohol affect my unborn baby?

When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your baby. A baby’s liver is one of the last organs to develop fully and does not mature until the last half of pregnancy. Your baby cannot process alcohol as well as you can and too much exposure to alcohol can seriously affect your baby’s development.

According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) it is particularly important for women who are pregnant to avoid alcohol in the first three months, because of the increased risk of miscarriage

However, drinking isn’t just dangerous for the baby in the first three months: it can affect your baby throughout pregnancy. Excessive exposure to alcohol can cause damage to your unborn baby at all stages of pregnancy. It can affect their development and lead to:

  • low birth weight
  • heart defects
  • learning and behavioural disorders

If alcohol severely damages your unborn baby’s brain, it may cause problems such as:

  • facial deformities
  • problems with physical and emotional development
  • poor memory or a short attention span
  • mental illnesses, such as alcohol or drug addiction

Problems like these are called foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Serious damage is known as Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). They are avoidable if you don’t drink alcohol while you’re pregnant, or limit your intake as recommended.

Our top tips:

  • avoid drinking alcohol at all during your pregnancy, including during the planning stage
  • find a non-alcoholic drink that you enjoy
  • don’t let people pressure you into drinking
  • if you do choose to drink alcohol, drink no more than 1-2 units once or twice a week max
  • sip any alcohol you do drink slowly to make it last
  • avoid getting drunk

Need help?

Speak to your midwife or visit for information about local alcohol support services.

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