Drinking alcohol at any stage during pregnancy can be very harmful to a baby. When you drink, alcohol enters the bloodstream and some will pass through the placenta to your baby; this can affect how the baby grows and develops. Although we can process a unit of alcohol in about an hour it is estimated that alcohol will stay in the baby’s system for up to three times longer. An unborn baby’s body and organs are still developing and so are at risk of alcohol related damage at all stages of pregnancy. Drinking more than the recommended amount while pregnant has been linked to a range of harms that can include:
- the risk of miscarriage
- effects to the way the baby develops in the womb and particularly to the way the baby’s brain develops
- causing the placenta not to work as well as it should and thus affecting the way the baby grows in the womb (also known as foetal growth restriction)
- an increased risk of a stillbirth
- an increased risk of premature labour
- the baby being more prone to illness in infancy and childhood and also when they become an adult
- a range of learning and behavioural disorders
Damage that is caused through a parent’s drinking whilst pregnant is usually permanent. By avoiding alcohol while trying to conceive and during pregnancy these harms can be prevented.
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
If you drink alcohol during pregnancy a group of problems can develop known as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
FASD is the name given to a group or range of problems in babies whose mothers drank alcohol during their pregnancy. The term spectrum is used because there are a range of physical, psychological and intellectual conditions and because an individuals condition can range from mild to severe.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, FAS
Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, PFAS
Alcohol Related Neuro-developmental Disorder, ARND
Alcohol Related Birth Defects, ARBD
Foetal Alcohol Effects, FAE
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is probably the most commonly recognised name for these conditions: it is thought that the range of FASD can go unrecognised or be misdiagnosed; for example as ADHD or autism:
The challenges a person with FASD faces may include:
- Attention, Memory and Learning Disorders
- Autistic-like Behaviours
- Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Defects
- Hearing and Ear Defects
- Height and Weight Deficiencies
- Hormonal Disorders
- Intellectual Disability; lowered IQ
- Liver Damage and Kidney and Heart Defects
- Mood and Behavioural Disorders
- Mouth, Teeth and Facial Defects
- Sensory Disorders
- Skeletal and Genital Defects
- Sleep Disorders
- Speech and Language Disorders
- Visual and Eye Defects
- Weak Immune System
Some of the factors that will increase the risk include:
- Drinking regularly during pregnancy
- Drinking heavily and/or getting drunk whilst pregnant
- Being over 30 and drinking heavily
- Having had previous maternity problems and a history of miscarriage
- The father is a heavy drinker
The government advises that pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether; this advice has also been given to women who are trying to conceive.
Nobody is sure how much alcohol will harm your unborn baby. If you do choose to drink, to minimise risk to the baby, the government’s advice is to not have more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and not to get drunk.
The more you drink during pregnancy the greater the risk.
N.B. Foetal is the English spelling – Fetal is American but is used by most medical professionals to ensure that internet and other searches identify all relevant articles and research.