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.
Q. Is there a safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant?
As researchers we don't know how much alcohol, if any, is safe to drink during pregnancy. Evidence shows that the level of harm is highest when there are high risk patterns of maternal alcohol use and that binge drinking is especially harmful. The reality is that many women may find it difficult to stay alcohol free during pregnancy and may need support to avoid alcohol during this time. For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.
Q. Is there a safe time to drink during pregnancy?
No. Alcohol can harm a developing baby at any time during pregnancy. It can cause problems in the early weeks of pregnancy, before a woman even knows she is pregnant and right up to the end of pregnancy.
Q. My partner and I are trying for a baby, can I continue to drink alcohol until we conceive?
It is great that you are planning your pregnancy. As you don't know you are pregnant until confirmation which can be some weeks later, and to give your baby the best start in life the Australian Guidelines recommend if you are planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.
Q. I'm breastfeeding, is it safe for my baby if I drink alcohol?
Alcohol in breastmilk can disrupt the hormones needed to successfully breastfeed. Alcohol stays in breastmilk for as long as it remains in your bloodstream -not drinking is the safest option. Download the Feedsafe app to get the right information, so you can make the best choice.
Q. Where do the recommendations not to drink when planning a pregnancy, while pregnant or breastfeeding come from?
Recommendations are based on the latest Australian research and are included in the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.
These updated guidelines published in 2009 aim to communicate evidence concerning these risks to the Australian community to allow individuals to make informed decisions regarding the amount of alcohol they choose to consume.
Guideline 1: Reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime The lifetime risk of harm from drinking alcohol increases with the amount consumed. For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
Guideline 2: Reducing the risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking On a single occasion of drinking, the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed. For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.
Guideline 3: Children and young people under 18 years of age For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
Parents and carers should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.
For young people aged 15−17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking as long as possible.
Guideline 4: Pregnancy and breastfeeding Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing foetus or breastfeeding baby.
For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.
For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.
The NHMRC Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol (page 78) conclude:
Not drinking alcohol 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 was pregnant or during pregnancy.
The level of risk to the individual fetus is influenced by maternal and fetal characteristics and is hard to predict.
It is important to know what a standard drink is so that when you are drinking you can manage how much alcohol you consume. Using standard drinks to measure your alcohol consumption is more accurate than counting the number of drinks you have. In Australia, a standard drink is any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol, regardless of container size or alcohol type (e.g beer, wine, spirit).
Examples of a 'standard drink'
Small glass of wine or champagne (100ml)
Stubby of mid-strength beer
1 nip of spirits (30ml)
A 100ml glass of wine is a standard drink; however the average restaurant serve is 150ml or 1.4 - 1.6 standard drinks. One can of full strength beer is equivalent to 1.4 standard drinks.
Q. I'm male, will drinking alcohol affect my fertility?
Yes it can. Binge drinking and regular heavy drinking may damage the function of the testicles.
Q. As an expectant father, what can I do to support my partner to not drink during pregnancy?
Supporting your partner is most effective in helping her not to drink during pregnancy, especially through modifying your own alcohol or not drinking as well throughout your partner's pregnancy
Q. My friend is pregnant but she doesn't want to tell anyone just yet. How can I support her in social situations so that she doesn't feel pressured to drink?
Join her in not drinking and say "we're on a health kick". Meet friends for breakfast or morning tea rather than dinner where alcohol is common.
Q. What does alcohol do to my developing baby?
Alcohol can affect the development of the brain and other organs. It can result in lifelong problems with memory, learning, attention, maths, money, time, decision making, behaviour, judgement and impulsivity.
Q. Will the effects of fetal alcohol exposure disappear as the child gets older?
The effects of fetal alcohol exposure are life-long and may not be obvious at birth. A minority of people may be identified by abnormal facial features (with or without other birth defects), poor growth and abnormalities of the brain and its functions. The majority of people with a FASD may not look different to others but will experience significant difficulties with behaviour, learning and development caused by alcohol's damage to different parts of the brain.