If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option. Learn about the effects alcohol could have on your unborn baby and the risks associated with drinking during pregnancy.
This message has been endorsed by many organisations, including the Ministry of Health, the Health Promotion Agency, the New Zealand College of Midwives, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, Family Planning, and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand.
On this page, you can find the following information:
- What effects could alcohol have on my baby?
- What is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)?
- Is drinking a glass of wine from time to time really a risk to my baby?
- What do I do if I find out I'm pregnant and I've been drinking?
- What is the low risk drinking advice?
- What can I do to help myself?
- Where can I get help and support?
- Not drinking alcohol during pregnancy is the safest option.
- During pregnancy, alcohol can be transferred to your baby through the placenta and umbilical cord affecting your pēpi's development.
- This includes all types of alcoholic drinks including beer, wine, cider, spirits and ready-to-drinks (RTDs).
- This can happen at any stage of pregnancy, even before a woman knows she is pregnant.
- If you’re trying to get pregnant be alcohol-free.
- If you do drink alcohol and there is a chance you could become pregnant use effective contraception (birth control).
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a condition caused by the developing baby being exposed to alcohol. It has lifelong impacts on individuals, their whānau, carers and the wider community.
- Prenatal exposure to alcohol can also increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.
- It is never too late. Stopping your drinking will increase the chances that your baby will be born healthy.
What effects could alcohol have on my baby?
Alcohol is a teratogen (a substance that may cause foetal abnormality) and can be transferred prenatally through the placenta and umbilical cord affecting the normal development of your baby. When you are pregnant, every time you drink alcohol, your baby is drinking alcohol too. Your baby can’t break down alcohol as well as you can and exposure to alcohol can seriously affect their development.
Prenatal (before birth) alcohol exposure can increase the risk of:
- miscarriage and stillbirth
- low birth weight and premature birth
- a range of life-long problems known as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
If you could be pregnant, stop drinking alcohol
(Counties Manukau Health, NZ, 2019)
What is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)?
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a condition that can occur as a result of prenatal exposure to alcohol. Problems can include brain damage and physical birth defects. Problems may be seen after birth, or they may not be noticeable until the child is older, when they may have trouble learning or socialising or have behavioural problems. FASD can be difficult to diagnose because not all children live or experience FASD in the same way. FASD can create life long challenges, eg, learning, speech, attention span, language and aggression problems.
Is drinking a glass of wine from time to time really a risk to my baby?
There is no known safe amount of alcohol, even small amounts of alcohol can harm a baby’s development. But it is not known at which point – if any – the risk completely disappears. Therefore, to avoid harming your baby/pēpi, it is best not to drink any alcohol at any stage during pregnancy. This includes the time around conception (getting pregnant).
What do I do if I find out that I'm pregnant and I've been drinking?
The first thing to do is stop drinking alcohol. It is never too late. Stopping your drinking will increase the chances that your baby will be born healthy.
If you are concerned or are unable to stop, talk with your midwife or GP. It is not usually possible to know if your baby will be affected until after birth or in childhood.
What is the low-risk drinking advice?
For women who could be pregnant, are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, stop drinking alcohol. There is no known safe level of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy.
For non-pregnant women, health professionals advise:
- no more than 2 standard drinks daily
- no more than 10 standard drinks a week
- at least 2 alcohol-free days per week
- no more than 4 standard drinks on any single occasion.
Read more about low-risk drinking advice.
What can I do to help myself?
- If you are trying to get pregnant, stop drinking.
- Sometimes it can be hard to say ‘no’ to an alcoholic drink, and you might not want to share the news that you are pregnant – especially if it’s early in the pregnancy.
- If you are socialising or going to an event, ask a friend (who knows you're pregnant) to go with you. You can be alcohol-free together.
- Switch your alcoholic drinks for non-alcoholic alternatives, such as juice or lime and soda. There are plenty of zero-alcohol drinks available. Water and milk are good choices.
- When you're ready to share you're pregnancy news, let your whānau and friends know why you are not drinking and ask them to support you in this decision.
Where can I get help and support?
If stopping drinking is difficult for you, or you are concerned about your drinking, there are organisations and people who can help you. Your midwife or GP can discuss ways you can stay healthy during pregnancy, answer your questions, or put you in touch with others who can help.
The Alcohol Drug Helpline is also here for you. Contact them on 0800 787 797 or free text 8681, 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Otherwise you can contact these organisations:
- Community Alcohol and Drug Services Free phone 0800 845 1818
- Support for family and friends Al-Anon
- 12 Step Plan Alcoholics Anonymous
- Alcohol & Drug addiction services, including the Bridge programme
Alcohol and pregnancy Health Promotion Agency, NZ
Alcohol – pregnancy and babies Ministry of Health, NZ
FASD Counties Manukau Health, NZ
Drinking alcohol while pregnant NHS Choices, UK
- Alcohol and pregnancy – a practical guide for health professionals Ministry of Health, NZ, 2010
- Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia, 2020
- Understanding FASD Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Care Action Network, NZ