The Effects of Alcohol During Pregnancy

If you drink alcohol during pregnancy, you risk causing harm to your baby. This can result in mental and physical problems in the baby, called foetal alcohol syndrome.

This can occur because alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to her baby through the placenta. Your baby cannot process alcohol as well as you can, which means it can damage cells in their brain, spinal cord and other parts of their body, and disrupt their development in the womb. This can result in the loss of the pregnancy. Babies that survive may be left with lifelong problems. There is no particular treatment for foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), and the damage to the child’s brain and organs cannot be reversed.

Children with FAS have problems with their neurological development, and abnormal growth, and have characteristic facial features that result from their foetal exposure to alcohol. Neurological problems are caused by damage to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). The problems experienced are likely to change as an infant grows up and different problems may be seen at different stages of development; from childhood and adolescence, into adulthood.

These may include:

  • Learning disabilities,
  • Poor academic achievement,
  • Poor organisation,
  • Lack of inhibition,
  • Difficulty writing or drawing,
  • Balance problems,
  • Attention
  • Hyperactivity problems.

The characteristic facial features can include small and narrow eyes, a small head, a smooth area between the nose and the lips and a thin upper lip. Children with FAS can also occasionally have additional problems such as:

  • Epilepsy
  • Hearing and ear problems
  • Height and weight issues
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney and heart defects
  • Mouth, teeth and facial problems
  • Weak immune system


Signs of FAS don’t always appear at birth. A doctor may be able to spot severe alcohol effects in the child at birth. However, less severe effects, such as behaviour or learning problems, may not be noticed until the child is in school. Sometimes the doctor can find severe problems before the baby is born. If your doctor knows about your alcohol use, he or she can order a test (ultrasound) to look for signs of FAS in your baby, such as heart defects or growth delays. The cause of problems that are found during the test may not be clear, but the findings alert the doctor to any special care a baby may need after he or she is born. Caring for a child born with alcohol effects takes patience. Help for your child may include extra support in school, social skills training, job training, and counselling. Community services may be able to help your family handle the costs and emotions of raising your child.

Finding alcohol effects early, even if they are mild, gives a child the best chance to reach his or her full potential in life. Finding the problem early may help prevent problems in school and mental health problems, such as substance use problemsdepression, or anxiety.

There is no treatment that can reverse the impact of alcohol on your baby’s health. And there’s no treatment that can make the effects less severe. Foetal alcohol syndrome is completely avoidable if you do not drink alcohol while you’re pregnant. The risk is higher the more you drink, although there’s no proven “safe” level of alcohol in pregnancy. Not drinking at all is the safest approach.

If you’re pregnant and struggling with an alcohol dependency you can call us at 01534 729060, It’s never too late to stop drinking: stopping at any point during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of problems in your baby.


Sourced: NHS, Drink Aware, Health Link BC

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