It’s still unclear exactly how much, if any, alcohol is completely safe for you to have while you’re pregnant, so the safest approach is not to drink at all while you’re expecting.
The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you’re pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby; with the more you drink the greater the risk.
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 and doesn’t mature until the latter stages of pregnancy. Your baby cannot process alcohol as well as you can, and too much exposure to alcohol can seriously affect their development.
In addition to the risk of miscarriage, more recent research found that drinking, particularly in the first three months of pregnancy, also increases the risk of premature birth and low birth weight.
Should you choose to drink after the first three months of your pregnancy, consuming alcohol carries risks of affecting your baby after they’re born. The risks are greater the more you drink. The effects include learning difficulties and behavioural problems.
Drinking heavily throughout pregnancy can cause your baby to develop a serious condition called foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
Children with FAS have:
Drinking less heavily, and even drinking heavily on single occasions, may be associated with lesser forms of FAS. The risk is likely to be greater the more you drink.
It may not be as difficult as you think to avoid alcohol completely for nine months, as many women go off the taste of alcohol early in pregnancy. Most women do give up alcohol once they know they are pregnant or when planning to become pregnant.
Women who find out they are pregnant after already having drunk during early pregnancy should avoid further drinking. However, they should not worry unnecessarily, as the risks of their baby being affected are likely to be low. If they are concerned, they should consult their doctor or midwife.
Anything you eat or drink while you’re breastfeeding can find its way into your breast milk, and that includes alcohol.
There’s some evidence that regularly drinking more than two units of alcohol a day while breastfeeding may affect your baby’s development. But an occasional drink is unlikely to harm your breastfed baby.
One unit of alcohol is approximately a single (25ml) measure of spirits, half a pint of beer, or 125ml (small) glass of wine, although this depends on the strength of the drink.
To check units in other drinks, see Alcohol Concern’s alcohol unit calculator.
If you do intend to have a social drink, you could try avoiding breastfeeding for two to three hours per unit after drinking. This allows time for the alcohol to leave your breast milk. You will need to make sure breastfeeding is established before you try this.
You may want to plan ahead by expressing some milk before a social function. Then you can skip the first breastfeed after the function and feed your baby with your expressed milk instead. Bear in mind your breasts may become uncomfortably full if you leave long gaps between feeds.
Binge drinking, where you have more than five units of alcohol in one session, may make you less aware of your baby’s needs. If you do binge drink, it’s essential your baby is cared for by a sober adult.
Never share a bed or sofa with your baby if you have drunk any alcohol. Doing this has a strong association with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
There’s no evidence that alcohol, including stout, helps you produce more milk.
Rest, being well in yourself, and letting your baby breastfeed whenever they want will all help increase your milk supply.
Domestic violence, also called domestic abuse, includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse in couple relationships or between family members.
You don’t have to wait for an emergency situation to seek help.
Anyone who needs confidential help with their own abusive behaviour can contact Respect on their free helpline on 0808 802 4040.