Pregnancy is an exciting time. Often women want to know what they can do to ensure that they and their baby are healthy.
One thing that is important is to avoid drinking alcohol while pregnant or planning pregnancy. The following information will provide you with the best advice for you and your baby about alcohol and pregnancy. This advice is consistent with that provided by the National Health and Medical Research Council's Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. This is Australia’s leading expert organisation on the development of national health advice and guidance.
The National Health and Medical Research Council's Australian Guidelines to reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol (Alcohol Guidelines) recommend that it is safest not to drink alcohol while pregnant or breast feeding.
The Guidelines for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding states:
Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing fetus or breastfeeding baby.
A: For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.
B: For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option (footnote 1).
Alcohol can affect the unborn baby and damage the development of the baby’s brain and physical growth. Alcohol can also lead to lower birth weights, miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth (footnote 2).
Babies exposed to alcohol may be born with conditions known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders or FASD. This is a term used to describe a group of conditions caused by alcohol use in pregnancy. Most children with FASD don’t look different but are likely to have a range of problems including brain damage, physical and emotional developmental delays, and learning problems such as poor memory, being impulsive, and having difficulties in controlling their behaviour (footnote 3).
Studies have not found a safe level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy where damage does not occur. This is why the National Health and Medical Research Council recommend that for women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy not drinking is the safest option.
If you are planning a pregnancyWhen you are planning a pregnancy alcohol can also impact on fertility in both men and women. Alcohol can greatly increase the time it takes to get pregnant and affect the quality of men’s sperm and women’s eggs. If you are trying to get pregnant you should consider not drinking alcohol at all to improve your chances of conception.
If you have consumed alcohol while pregnant and are concerned, you should talk to your doctor, midwife or obstetrician.Most women don’t know exactly when they become pregnant and so it is possible that you have been drinking alcohol before you were aware of your pregnancy. It is important to remember that it is never too late to stop drinking alcohol during your pregnancy.
Not drinking alcohol is the safest option when breastfeeding.Alcohol enters the breast milk and may stay there for several hours. Alcohol may affect milk production and this can cause babies to eat less and sleep less. Alcohol can also affect the baby’s brain and spinal cord development which continue to grow after birth.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends avoiding alcohol in the first month after birth and when the baby is very young. When the baby is older and a more regular feeding pattern is established you may be able to have alcohol between breastfeeds if you plan ahead and allow enough time for the alcohol to exit your system.
The table below provides weight-based estimates of the amount of time it takes for alcohol to be cleared from breast milk. This model assumes an average height of 162 cm and that alcohol metabolism is constant at 15mg/dL. This table should only be used as a guide; the actual time that it will take for alcohol to clear from the milk will vary across individuals (footnote 4).
|Maternal weight (kg)||1 |
Australian standard drink
Source: National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009) .Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.For more information on refer to alcohol and breastfeeding leaflet by the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
If you are finding it difficult to stop drinking you should speak to your doctor, midwife or obstetrician for support and advice.Speaking to a health professional may seem daunting. It is important to remember that health professionals speak to lots of people about these issues. Ultimately, they want the best for you and your baby. If you are having trouble stopping your drinking your health professional can refer you to services in your area to support you and your baby to be healthy.
If you need information and support visit the Referral page for details of services in your area.
Women Want to Know: Information for women on pregnancy and alcoholThe leaflet, Information for women about pregnancy and alcohol provides information on why it’s best to avoid alcohol consumption during pregnancy, hints and tips for saying ‘no’ to alcohol when out with friends and information on where to go for further support or advice.
For further information on alcohol, pregnancy and other issues, you can also call the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby Helpline on 1800 882 436 or go to the Pregnancy Birth & Baby website .
1 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
2 Riley, E. Clarren, S., Weinberg, J. and Jonsson, E. (Eds). (2011). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: management and policy perspectives of FASD. Wiley-Blackwell, Germany
3 O’Leary, C. (2002). Foetal Alcohol Syndrome: A literature review. National Alcohol Strategy 2001 to 2003-04 Occasional Paper. Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra
4 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009).Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.