Stop drinking alcohol, if you could be pregnant, are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption 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.
- There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol can harm a baby’s development at any stage of the pregnancy. This can be even before a woman knows she is pregnant. If you’re trying to get pregnancy be alcohol-free too.
- There is no known safe amount of alcohol, even small amounts of alcohol can harm a baby’s development.
- All types of alcoholic drinks can harm your baby, including beer, wine, cider spirits and RTDs.
- Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk that your baby may have a range of life-long problems know as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
- Drinking alcohol during pregnancy also increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.
- If you do drink alcohol and there is a chance you could become pregnant use effective contraception (birth control).
What effects could alcohol have on my baby?
Alcohol is a teratogen − a substance that may affect the development of a foetus. When you are pregnant, every time you drink alcohol, your baby is drinking alcohol too. Alcohol is carried in your blood, through the placenta to your baby. Your baby can’t break down alcohol as well as you can and exposure to alcohol can seriously affect their development.
Alcohol can harm your baby in a number of ways, including increasing 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). These problems can be from brain damage and physical birth defects. A child with FASD faces life-long challenges which could include learning, speech, attention span, language and aggression.
What is FASD
Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is the term used to describe the range of problems that can occur as a result of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. 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 will have the same problems.
Is drinking a glass of wine occasionally 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.
However, problems like FASD are more likely to occur if a woman drinks a lot of alcohol. But it is not known at which point – if any – the risk completely disappears. Therefore, to avoid harming your baby, it is advised not to drink any alcohol at any stage during pregnancy. This includes the time around conception.
What do I do if I find out that I am pregnant and I have 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. However, if you stop as soon as you know you are pregnant, the chance of your baby having a problem is very small.
What is the low-risk drinking advise?
For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, stop drinking alcohol. There is no known safe level of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy.
For other 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.
Drinking within these low-risk limits is not only best for your own health but also reduces the risk of harm to an unborn child if you do become pregnant.
Read more about low-risk drinking advise
What can I do to help myself?
- Try to drink within the low-risk drinking limits at all times.
- If you are trying to get pregnant, stop drinking.
- Switch your alcoholic drinks for non-alcoholic alternatives, such as juice or lime and soda.
- Let your family and friends know why you are not drinking and ask them to support you in this decision.
If stopping drinking is difficult for you or you are otherwise 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.
- Community Alcohol and Drug Services
- Support for family and friends Al-Anon
- Alcohol Drug Helpline confidential information and support
- Addictions Treatment Directory search by region of NZ
- 12 Step Plan Alcoholics Anonymous
- Alcohol & Drug addiction services, including the Bridge programme
- 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, AU, 2009
- Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Foetal Alcohol Network, NZ