Irish women urged to put the health and wellbeing of their children first by not drinking alcohol during pregnancy

Niamh Sheridan, from Donabate and her newborn daughter Megan at the launch of the Alcohol & Pregnancy information campaign at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street.

THE country’s three largest maternity hospitals have joined with Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, to warn of the damage that can be caused to the unborn child by drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

The National Maternity Hospital, The Rotunda Hospital and the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital have said it is in a child’s best interests for a prospective mother not to drink alcohol while pregnant, due to the risk of damaging the physical and mental development of the unborn child – damage which can have serious, life-long consequences.

The dangers of drinking during pregnancy and advice for prospective mothers are outlined in a new information leaflet and on

“It’s important that pregnant women know that when they drink alcohol, so does their unborn child. During pregnancy alcohol passes from the mother’s bloodstream through the placenta and into the baby’s bloodstream, where it can affect its development,” said Mary Brosnan, Director of Midwifery and Nursing at the National Maternity Hospital.

Ms Brosnan said that drinking alcohol during pregnancy carries a risk of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

“Children born with FAS are those who have been exposed to high levels of alcohol throughout the pregnancy and can experience problems with their growth, facial defects, as well as life-long learning and behavioural problems,” said Ms Brosnan.

“FASD refers to the wide range of less obvious – and more common – effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Although children with FASD can look healthy and normal, they can have issues such as sight and hearing difficulties, problems paying attention and following simple directions, as well as other learning difficulties.”

Ms Brosnan also pointed out that drinking heavily during pregnancy can increase the chances of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as increasing the risk of premature delivery, miscarriage and stillbirth.

The largest Irish study of its kind, at the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital, found that almost two-thirds of the more than 43,000 women surveyed at the hospital between 1999 and 2005 said they drank alcohol during their pregnancy.(1) Meanwhile, a study, funded by the Health Research Board, last year found 80% of Irish women surveyed drank at some point during their pregnancy.(2)

“We know that a large amount of Irish women continue to drink alcohol during pregnancy and part of this is undoubtedly due to the fact that pregnant women can often receive conflicting advice, from various sources, about drinking alcohol during pregnancy,” said Catherine Keane, Policy and Advocacy Officer with Alcohol Action Ireland.

“This confusion is due, in some part, to the fact that the exact level of alcohol at which harm starts to be caused to the unborn child has not been clearly established and every woman is different, but it is known that the risk of damage increases in line with how much you drink.

“This lack of clarity is another good reason to avoid alcohol completely, because as there is no known ’safe’ level of alcohol during pregnancy then the safest thing to do is not drink at all. What is very clear is that there are no benefits for the unborn child from exposure to alcohol, just risks,” said Ms Keane.

“Although alcohol is advertised and marketed through the use of risk-free, positive messages and is sold in supermarkets, petrol stations and convenience stores as if it were just another grocery, it is important to remember that it is a toxic substance that – when consumed during pregnancy – can cause serious problems for the development of the unborn child.”

View the new Alcohol & Pregnancy leaflet here

1.                       Barry S, Kearney A, Daly S, Lawlor E, McNamee E, Barry J. The Coombe Women’s Hospital study of alcohol, smoking and illicit drug use 1987 – 2005. 2007.

2.                       McCarthy FP, O’Keeffe LM, Khashan AS, North RA, Poston L, McCowan LM, et al. Association between maternal alcohol consumption in early pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes. Obstet Gynecol. 2013;122(4):830-7.