independent advocate reducing alcohol harm

Alcohol and pregnancy

“The bottom line is pregnancy has to be alcohol-free to prevent FASD. I would be advocating for women to say no to alcohol in pregnancy because I cannot say there is any safe amount or any safe time at which to take alcohol during pregnancy”

Dr Mary O’Mahony, leading expert on Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), Alcohol Action Ireland board member


  • Alcohol passes from the mother’s blood into the baby’s blood via the placenta and can damage your baby’s developing brain and body.
  • Drinking can cause brain damage and other birth defects. The more you drink, the greater the risk to your baby.
  • The only way to completely avoid conditions like foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and foetal alcohol syndrome is by choosing an alcohol-free pregnancy.
  • Drinking alcohol during pregnancy causes:
    • foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), including
    • foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)


FASD causes problems with a baby’s body, brain, behaviour and can cause problems throughout a person’s life such as:

  • Hyperactivity and poor attention,
  • Learning difficulties and a lower IQ,
  • Difficulty controlling behaviour,
  • Difficulty getting along with other people,
  • Being smaller than expected,
  • Problems with eating and sleeping,
  • Emotional and mental health problems.


FAS is more serious and can happen when you drink heavily during your pregnancy. In addition to all the signs of FASD listed above, your baby may:

  • be smaller than normal or underweight,
  • have damage to their brain and spinal cord,
  • have an abnormally small head or eyes, abnormally-shaped ears or facial features,
  • have problems with their heart and body organs.
  • If you are planning to become pregnant, giving up alcohol while you are trying to conceive (get pregnant) as well as during the pregnancy will avoid any possible risks to your baby.


Read more about FASD and FAS here:


  • 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