Pregnancy and Alcohol Use
What are the risks of drinking during pregnancy?
There are a number of risks to your developing baby if you drink alcohol when you are pregnant.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a term used to describe a range of problems affecting babies whose mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy. FASD is the leading known cause of developmental disability in children and includes, physical, learning and behavioural disabilities.
For more information on FASD, see HealthLinkBC File #38e Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
How much alcohol is risky?
There is no known safe amount of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy. It is safest not to drink at all when you are pregnant or when you are planning to become pregnant.
According to Canadian Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking guidelines, a standard drink means:
Beer, cider or cooler
|one 12 oz. bottle (341 ml)|
|one 5 oz. glass (142 ml)|
(vodka, rye, gin, rum, etc.)
one 1.5 oz shot (43 ml)
(straight or in a mixed drink)
Is there any safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy?
There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Your baby’s brain and nervous system develop all throughout pregnancy. Even from the very start of pregnancy, alcohol can have serious and lasting effects on the health of your baby.
Which drinks are harmful?
There is no safe kind of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. All types of alcohol, including beer, wine, hard liquor, coolers and ciders, can harm your baby. Binge drinking, drinking more than 3 drinks at any one time, and heavy drinking are very harmful to your baby.
What if I drank alcohol before I knew I was pregnant?
It is not uncommon that pregnant women may drink alcohol before they realize they are pregnant. If you did drink, it is important to stop drinking alcohol as soon as you know you are pregnant. You should stop drinking throughout the rest of your pregnancy.
Quitting drinking and looking after your own health are the best ways to ensure that your baby is healthy. It is never too late to cut down and quit drinking.
What else can I do to make sure I have a healthy pregnancy?
As well as not drinking alcohol, there are other steps you can take to be healthy and to protect your developing baby:
- get plenty of rest;
- regularly see your doctor, nurse or midwife;
- eat healthy food according to Canada’s Food Guide;
- cut down and stop your use of cigarettes and other drugs; and
- reduce your stress. You can reduce stress by going for walks or taking part in other physical activities, taking a warm bath, or talking with a supportive friend or family member.
For more information on healthy eating during your pregnancy, see Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide at hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php.
How can I prepare for prenatal and health care visits?
Some women find it hard to talk about their alcohol use with their health care providers. It can help to write down your questions before your visit. It may also be helpful to bring a person with you for support such as a friend, partner, or community support worker. Getting early and regular prenatal care is an important step to a healthy pregnancy.
How can others offer support?
Partners, families and friends play an important role in supporting a woman to stop drinking during pregnancy. Support can be provided in various ways:
- Tell her that you care about her as well as the baby.
- Let her share her feelings.
- Be sincere, caring and non- judgmental.
- Tell family, friends and anyone offering her alcohol that there is no known safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy and no known safe amount.
- Offer practical support, including helping with transportation to appointments or to treatment.
- Offer to care for other children.
- Enjoy activities without alcohol – for example, go to the movies or take a walk or take part in other physical activities.
- Take a ‘pause’ from alcohol during the pregnancy. Avoid drinking around her and in social situations when they are together.
- Bring non-alcoholic drinks for outings.
- Recognize her efforts and celebrate small successes.
- Offer to work through problems and barriers to change together.
- Ask if there are any other ways you can support her.
- Help reduce the stress in her life.
Where can I get more information and help?
There are various services to support you to cut down and stop drinking.
Contact Your Local Public Health Unit
For contact information and to find out the services that are available in your area go to www.health.gov.bc.ca/socsec/. When you call ask for a public health nurse or the mental health and addictions team.
Contact an Alcohol Counselor
BC Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service is available 24 hours per day for information on where counseling is available in your area. Lower Mainland 604-660-9382; Outside Lower Mainland, toll-free in B.C. 1-800-663-1441
Motherisk Alcohol and Substance Use Helpline
Offers information on the use of alcohol and other drugs during pregnancy and while breastfeeding: toll-free: 1-877-327-4636 or visit www.motherisk.org/women/index.jsp.
Pregnancy Outreach Programs
Offer support to pregnant women in communities across B.C. To find a program in your area, visit the BC Association of Pregnancy Outreach Programs website at www.bcapop.ca, or call your local public health unit.