Alcohol and pregnancy
There's no known safe limit of drinking during pregnancy.
Some people will tell you that having the odd drink when you’re pregnant is okay.
The safest option is to stop drinking when you’re trying to get pregnant or as soon as you know you’re pregnant.
How alcohol can harm your baby
Your baby's developing all the way through your pregnancy. Alcohol can be harmful at any stage.
- damages your baby's developing cells which can affect how their brain and organs develop and how they look
- makes it more likely you'll have a miscarriage, or your baby will be born early or underweight
- can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
Even small amounts of alcohol can cross over from your body into your baby. The exact level of alcohol exposure that can lead to harm is not known with certainty, but the more you drink, the greater the possible harm.
Drinking a lot in a single occasion (sometimes called binge drinking) is especially harmful
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
If you drink while pregnant your baby could develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). This is a term used to describe a range of alcohol-related birth defects.
About 3 in every 100 children and young people in the UK have FASD, but it’s preventable by avoiding alcohol when pregnant or planning a pregnancy.
FASD may not always be detected at birth but can cause problems later in life, including:
- problems with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention
- learning and behavioural difficulties
- experiencing difficulty in social interaction, personal care, making sense of the world, and staying safe
- sensory difficulties such as being sensitive to, and distressed by, certain patterns of light, sound, or touch
- vulnerability to victimisation and bullying
Now's the time to stop drinking
Lots of pregnancies aren’t planned, so you might not have known you were pregnant for a while and may have drunk alcohol in that time.
The first and most important thing you can do now is to stop drinking alcohol completely.
When you go to your first antenatal appointment, your midwife will ask you whether you drink alcohol and if so how much.
Be honest with your midwife or GP if you have been drinking during pregnancy - you can speak safely and openly to them.
There are lots of organisations available to provide information, help and support.
Stopping drinking when pregnant
For lots of women, stopping drinking when pregnant can be difficult - sometimes harder than they thought. The social pressure to have a drink can be huge and can make it harder to say no.
With the right support and a bit of planning, you can do it. Talking to your midwife is the first step towards getting the right support for you and your baby.
Support your partner
Dads and partners can support a healthy, alcohol-free pregnancy by:
- not drinking alcohol around their partner
- trying activities that don’t involve alcohol - you could go swimming or go for a walk
- trying non-alcoholic alternatives such as mocktails, smoothies, and flavoured and fizzy water
If you need help and support, visit Scotland's Service Directory or our where to get help page.
Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.
03 December 2021
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