Alcohol and Pregnancy

Alcohol and Pregnancy



Alcohol is a teratogen

A teratogen is a drug, chemical or infection that interrupts or alters the normal development of a fetus, including development of the brain or other major organs. Other examples of teratogens include Rubella, radiation, mercury and thalidomide.








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There is no safe amount or safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy which is why we recommend ...






Alcohol can cross the placenta

The placenta links the blood supply of the fetus to the blood supply of the mother and is essential to the growth of a healthy fetus. The placenta cannot keep harmful substances such as alcohol away from the fetus which is why we recommend 'no alcohol in pregnancy is the safest option'. Because the fetus lacks the ability to process the alcohol as the liver is not fully formed, they absorb the alcohol and can have the same blood alcohol content or higher than the mother and it remains at that level for a longer period of time.


Alcohol can harm a developing baby at any time during pregnancy - from the early weeks before a woman even knows she is pregnant through to the end of the pregnancy.




What do the experts recommend?


The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol aim to communicate evidence concerning these risks to allow individuals to make informed decisions regarding the amount of alcohol they choose to consume.


Guideline 4: Pregnancy and breastfeeding


Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing foetus or breastfeeding baby.

  1. For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.
  2. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.


  • The risk of harm to the fetus is highest when there is high, frequent, maternal alcohol intake.
  • The risk of harm to the fetus is likely to be low if a woman has consumed only small amounts of alcohol before she knew she ws pregnant or during pregnancy.
  • The level of risk to the indiviudal fetus is influenced by maternal and fetal characteristics and is hard to predict.


For more information read the NHMRC Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 




What are the possible effects of fetal alcohol exposure?


Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can result in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) and lifelong disabilities for a person. The damage to the brain can result in problems with:

  • development
  • learning
  • behaviour
  • memory
  • language 
  • communication skills
  • everyday living and socialising skills



These disabilities can lead to secondary problems such as:

  • poor school performance
  • unemployment
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • mental health problems 
  • encounters with the justice system




Diagnosis of conditions within the fetal alcohol spectrum can:

  • improve social, health and educational outcomes
  • optimise functioning through modification of physical and social environments
  • decrease the risk of secondary disabilities through the identification of a child's specific areas of need



Without diagnosis and interventions this may lead to a cycle of welfare dependency and hardship which can impact on the next generation of children, socially and economically.



Read more about the effects of fetal alcohol exposure and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders