When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your baby. A baby’s liver is one of the last organs to develop fully and does not mature until the last half of pregnancy. Your baby cannot process alcohol as well as you can, and too much exposure to alcohol can seriously affect your baby’s development.
Drinking during the first three months of pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage. If you drink heavily at any stage during pregnancy, it can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Symptoms include:
- restricted growth
- facial abnormalities
- learning and behavioural disorders.
Even in women who do drink lesser amounts of alcohol, the baby’s development may be affected. That’s why you should avoid drinking alcohol if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant. If you do drink, minimise the risk to your baby by not drinking more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week – and don’t get drunk.
If you are drinking with friends:
- find a non-alcoholic drink that you enjoy
- sip any alcohol you do drink slowly, to make it last
- don’t let people pressure you into drinking
- avoid getting drunk.
What is a unit?
With so many different drinks and glass sizes, from shots to pints – not to mention bottles – it’s easy to get confused about how many units are in your drink.
The number of units in a drink is based on the size of the drink, as well as its alcohol strength – or alcohol by volume (abv). For example:
- A pint of strong lager (5% abv) contains about three units of alcohol, whereas a pint of lower-strength lager (3.5%) contains two units.
- A standard glass (175ml) of 12% abv wine will have around two units of alcohol, whereas a large glass (250ml) of the same wine will have three units.
- A single measure (25ml in England, Wales and Scotland) of whisky, gin or vodka at 40% abv will contain one unit of alcohol. In Northern Ireland a single measure is usually 35ml.
You can find out how many units there are in different types and brands of drinks by using the Drinkaware alcohol unit calculator.
Breastfeeding and alcohol
If you’re breastfeeding, an occasional drink probably won’t harm you or your baby, but it might affect how your baby feeds:
- The milk may smell different and your baby may not feed as well as normal.
- Your baby may sleep less well for some hours after feeding.
So when you’re breastfeeding, it’s probably most sensible either not to drink or to have one or two units of alcohol no more than once or twice a week. You may want to express milk in advance if you intend to drink a little more on a special occasion.
If you have difficulty cutting down what you drink, talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist. Confidential help and support are available from local counselling services or through Drinkline (see below).
For more information:
Drinkline: 0800 917 8282
Drinkline (Scotland): 0800 7 314 314
Drinkaware (UK): www.drinkaware.co.uk
NHS Choices (England): www.nhs.uk