advocating to reduce 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 Syndrome (FAS), and Asst Director of Public Health, HSE South, commenting on the findings from an international study (JAMA Pediatrics: Aug 2017) which found that Ireland had the third highest prevalence of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the world.


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.

For a Q&A on alcohol and pregnancy, and further information on the risk that drinking alcohol poses to the unborn child, please follow this link.

There is no national register of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), therefore the number of cases of FASD, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) in Ireland are unknown, while FASD is also commonly misdiagnosed or unconfirmed.

However, studies on alcohol consumption during pregnancy suggest the number of affected children in Ireland may be significant.

A recently published study 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, based on estimates from the Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints (SCOPE) study. Estimates of drinking during pregnancy from the Growing up in Ireland (GUI) and the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) studies were substantially lower (20-46%), but still at levels that warrant serious concern.

The researchers concluded that alcohol use during pregnancy is highly prevalent and evidence shows that gestational alcohol exposure may occur in over 75% of pregnancies in Ireland. The number of pregnant women who drank heavily in the three studies was small, but the researchers point out that “since most women who consume alcohol do so at lower levels where the offspring growth and development effects are less well understood (than at higher levels), the widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern”.

The largest Irish study of its kind, at the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital, found that almost two-thirds (63%) of the more than 43,000 women surveyed at the hospital between 1999 and 2005 said they drank alcohol during their pregnancy.

For further information on this issue see Alcohol Action Ireland’s Submission on a National Maternity Strategy.