Can you drink alcohol during pregnancy?

Pregnant woman drinking wine

The current advice around drinking in pregnancy goes too far and is causing some women to worry unnecessarily, says the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). The organisation, alongside other experts, has questioned alcohol guidelines, saying they can cause needless anxiety

Should I avoid alcohol during pregnancy entirely?

Women are routinely told that alcohol is a complete no-no during pregnancy and that even light alcohol consumption can cause stunted growth, learning, and behavioural difficulties. It's this message that BPAS and academic experts have offered an opposing stance on. Drinking small amounts of alcohol has not been shown to cause this kind of harm to a developing baby, says Ellie Lee, Director of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent. In addition, BPAS says telling women that small quantities of alcohol in pregnancy can harm your baby has no basis in evidence.

In 2016 the UK Chief Medical Officers altered guidelines on drinking in pregnancy to advise women to avoid alcohol altogether for the duration of their pregnancy. This was not as a result of changes in the evidence base, but in part because there were concerns that the previous guidance was being interpreted as a recommendation to drink alcohol at low levels.

Why is the current advice on drinking in pregnancy being questioned?

BPAS and doctors are now warning that the strict no-alcohol advice has done more harm than good by causing mothers-to-be unnecessary anxiety.

I've been drinking and I've just found out I'm pregnant, have I harmed my baby?

Consistent heavy drinking can result in foetal alcohol syndrome, but isolated episodes of binge-drinking have no robust evidence of causing long-term damage. This means that if you were on the gin one night and found out you were six weeks along the day after (as many of us have done) you are unlikely to have caused your baby harm.

Many women avoid all alcohol in the first trimester, but feel happy enjoying the occasional glass after that. Drinking to excess during pregnancy is potentially dangerous because the alcohol crosses the placenta and your baby's developing liver can't process it as fast as your body can.