Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a life long irreversible neurodevelopmental condition caused by alcohol exposure in utero.

It is associated with lifelong physical, mental, educational, social, and behavioural difficulties, and is the leading preventable cause of neurodevelopment disorder.

That’s why there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and no period of pregnancy has been shown to be immune to the effects of alcohol on the unborn child. 

Ireland is estimated to have the third highest prevalence of (FASD) and the more severe foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in the world.

According to Irish expert Dr Mary O’Mahony, this means that an estimated 600 Irish babies are born each year with FAS, and more than 40,000 Irish people live with the condition.

FASD is more common than FAS. For every case of FAS there are at least 10 cases of FASD. 

A comprehensive study, carried out in Ireland, Australia, the UK and New Zealand (2017), found that Ireland emerged as the country with the highest rates of drinking, both before (90%) and during (82%) pregnancy, and of binge drinking, before (59%) and during (45%) pregnancy.  

We also know that in Ireland: 

  • Four in five of first pregnancies are exposed to alcohol; nearly one in two (45%) are exposed at high-risk levels. 
  • Two in five pregnancies are unplanned, increasing the chance they will be exposed to alcohol. 
  • Pregnant women do not consistently receive timely maternity care or support for their Alcohol & Drug issues. 
  • Health professionals do not consistently provide information on the risks of drinking during pregnancy or routinely screen for alcohol issues. 
  • Most clinicians lack the capability to diagnose FASD. 
  • families of people with FASD struggle to access appropriate support and report a lack of understanding from services, professionals and even other family members 


What needs to happen? 

Given this evidence, it is imperative that health and social care professionals who are in contact with mothers and families are trained in recognising FASD and indeed are equipped to help prevent it. Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy do not intend to harm their baby. That is why blaming and stigmatising women is cruel, as well as ineffective in terms of prevention.

Instead more work is needed to ensure that women are provided with information and support during pregnancy. Screening and brief interventions must be carried out with pregnant women at the early stages of pregnant and the risks of drinking should be communicated in a clear and consistent fashion.  Families and children living with FASD must also be recognised and supported. 

The Public Health Alcohol Act provides for the introduction of labelling of alcohol products. These new labels will include health warnings about the risks associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy. However, this legislation has not yet been implemented. 

In 2022, the HSE developed a position paper setting out a range of actions and stating that a “national whole of government strategy is needed to drive evidence based measures that lead to a reduction in FASD in Ireland and to drive appropriate assessment and intervention strategies when the diagnosis is suspected or made.” AAI will support the HSE’s recommendations through its advocacy and campaigning work.


  • If you have already drunk alcohol during your pregnancy, stop drinking alcohol for the rest of your pregnancy. The less your baby is exposed to alcohol over the course of the pregnancy, the greater their chance for healthy brain growth and development.
  • If you drink regularly and you find it hard to stop, ask for support and help. You may be reluctant to speak about your drinking to your GP, midwife or obstetrician. You can also call the HSE Alcohol and Drugs Helpline for free on 1800 459 459 and speak in confidence with a qualified professional about your drinking.

Download the HSE’s Ask About Alcohol Pregnancy leaflet here:

Find some more tips for an alcohol-free pregnancy here