Information for the public

Alcohol-related damage to a foetus can result in physical deformities and organic brain damage. Because there is no established "safe drinking level" for pregnant women, the advice for pregnant women, and those thinking about becoming pregnant, is to abstain from alcohol.

Introduction

No mother deliberately sets out to harm her baby. But the risk to the foetus is hard to predict, and because there is no established "safe drinking level" for pregnant women, the advice for pregnant women, and those thinking about becoming pregnant, is to abstain from alcohol.

However, if a woman who have consumed alcohol before she realised she were pregnant the risk to the foetus is still low if she immediately stops drinking.

What are the risks?

When alcohol is consumed, it quickly reaches the foetus. The placenta does not provide a barrier against alcohol.

Alcohol is a teratogen, meaning that it is a substance that can damage the foetus, especially the brain, heart, and limbs. This damage to the foetus can take place at any stage of pregnancy.

The degree of damage depends on several factors:

  • Stage of development of the foetus:¬†different parts of the body develop at different times during pregnancy
  • How much the mother drinks during pregnancy: there is no evidence of a "safe drinking level" when pregnant. However, larger amounts of alcohol can cause an increased amount of damage
  • The pattern and timing of drinking: a single drink once a week spaced over a number of hours will have a different effect on the foetus than drinking large amounts over small periods of time, or drinking constantly over a number of days.
Brain size comparison between normal 6 week old baby and a baby with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder