Alcohol during pregnancy

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Key Points

Don’t drink alcohol if you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant.  

Alcohol passes directly from your body to your baby’s and can cause serious health problems for your baby.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy makes your baby more likely to have premature birth, birth defects and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. 

Is it okay to drink alcohol during pregnancy?

It is not safe to drink any amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy. This includes the first few weeks of pregnancy, when you might not even know you are pregnant. Alcohol includes wine, wine coolers, beer and liquor.

How does drinking alcohol during pregnancy affect your baby’s health?

When you drink alcohol during pregnancy, the alcohol enters your blood and quickly passes to your baby through the placenta and the umbilical cord. The placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause serious health problems for your baby, including:

  • Preterm birth. This is when your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm babies may have serious health problems at birth and later in life.
  • Birth defects. Birth defects are present at birth and affect the look or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works. Hearing loss, heart problems and cleft lip are some examples of birth defects.
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs). Children with FASDs may have a range of problems, including intellectual and developmental disabilities. These can cause problems with:
    • Physical development
    • Learning
    • Communicating
    • Daily self-care, like getting dressed, brushing teeth or preparing meals
    • Behavior
  • Binge drinking during pregnancy increases the chances of having a baby with FASDs. For women, binge drinking is consuming 4 or more alcoholic drinks in around 2 hours.
  • Low birthweight (also called LBW). A baby is considered to be low birthweight when born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Miscarriage. A miscarriage happens when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Stillbirth. A stillbirth is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

FASDs does not go away with time. But there are treatments and therapies that can help with the different problems FASDs can cause.

How can you keep your baby safe from alcohol during pregnancy?

If you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant, do not drink alcohol. When you avoid alcohol, you remove the risk of FASDs or any other health problems directly caused by drinking alcohol.

When you get pregnant, it’s important to get regular prenatal care. If you need help to stop drinking alcohol, tell your health care provider right away. The best way to keep your baby safe is to avoid drinking any alcohol when you are pregnant and to get the right support to stop drinking, if you need it.

How and when should you give up drinking alcohol?

Here are some tips to help you stop drinking alcohol:

  • If you think you have a problem with alcohol, get help before you get pregnant. Your health care provider can recommend programs and support groups to help you quit.
  • If you are planning on getting pregnant, stop drinking immediately.
  • Make it clear to your partner and friends and family that you’re not drinking alcohol during pregnancy. 
  • Stay away from situations or places where you would usually drink.
  • Get rid of all the alcohol in your home.  

If you need help to stop drinking, here’s what you can do:

Can your partner’s drinking affect your baby during pregnancy?

FASDs and other alcohol-related health conditions happen when you drink during pregnancy. Research is still being done to find out if alcohol harms a man’s sperm before a woman gets pregnant.

More information

Last reviewed: July, 2023