Drinking alcohol while pregnant

Medical specialists are still unsure exactly how much, if any, alcohol is safe for you to drink while you're pregnant, so the safest approach is not to drink at all while you're expecting.

Pregnancy and drinking

The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you're pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

Drinking during pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to your baby. The risk increases dependent upon the quantity and frequency of alcohol intake.

How does alcohol affect my unborn baby?

When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and into your baby's system. Your baby processes alcohol much more slowly compared to you and such exposure can seriously affect their developing nervous system and other body organs.

In addition to the risk of miscarriage, drinking alcohol particularily in the first three months of pregnancy, increases the risk of premature birth and low birthweight.

Drinking heavily during pregnancy can cause your baby to develop a serious condition called Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Children with FAS have:

  • poor growth
  • facial abnormalities
  • major learning and behaviour difficulties
  • increased risk of congenital abnormalities

Drinking less heavily is associated with lesser forms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The risk is considered to be greater the more you drink.

How to avoid alcohol in pregnancy

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.

If you find out you are pregnant and drank during early pregnancy you should avoid further drinking. If you're concerned, you should seek advice from your doctor or midwife.

What is a unit of alcohol?

If you do decide to drink when you’re pregnant, it's important to know how many units you are consuming.

One UK unit is 10 millilitres (ml) – or eight grams – of pure alcohol. This is equal to:

  • half a pint of beer, lager or cider at 3.5% alcohol by volume (ABV: you can find this on the label)
  • a single measure (25ml) of spirit, such as whisky, gin, rum or vodka, at 40% ABV
  • half a standard (175ml) glass of wine at 11.5% ABV

Read more about alcohol units.

Alcohol support services

If you have difficulty cutting down what you drink, talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist.

Confidential help and support is also available from local counselling services:

  • Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you're worried about your own or someone else's drinking, call this free helpline on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am - 8pm, weekends 11am - 4pm)
  • Addaction is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities to manage the effects of alcohol and drug misuse.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Its "12-step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.

Read more advice on cutting down your drinking.