Every Moment Matters
Home / Alcohol and Drug Workers 

Alcohol and Drug Workers

Alcohol and Drug Workers 

Share

“If you are alcohol dependent, you need a lot of reassurance and non-judgmental support to stop drinking when pregnant. The earlier the support, the better the outcomes for mum and baby.”

Alcohol and Drug Workers play an important role

Alcohol and Drug Workers play an important role in providing frank and stigma-free advice about the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy, as well as support. This is particularly important for women who are finding it difficult to stop drinking alcohol, or who may be experiencing alcohol dependence. 

We want women to know that it is never too late to stop alcohol use during pregnancy with support. Help is available. It is important to reinforce the benefits of stopping drinking at any stage during pregnancy to minimise further risk to both the mother and baby. 

About alcohol, pregnancy and breastfeeding

The updated National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol advise:   

  • women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol.   
  • for women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby. 

This is because any alcohol consumed passes directly to the developing baby, which creates a range of increased risks, including risk of: 

  • miscarriage 
  • stillbirth, premature birth, and low birth weight 
  • damage to the baby’s developing brain, body, and organs, and 
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).  

FASD is a lifelong disability caused by alcohol exposure during pregnancy. It is the leading preventable developmental disability in Australia. 

Alcohol withdrawal and pregnancy 

Withdrawal management should always occur with medical support, because to stop suddenly can be dangerous for women who are pregnant and their developing baby.  

Women who have an alcohol-use disorder should be offered access to treatment that is matched to the severity of their dependence. This could include referral to specialist antenatal care and alcohol and other drug treatment by a multidisciplinary team.  

There are specialist clinics across Australia that support women who are pregnant and have an alcohol or other drug dependence. 


What women say 

We asked women who were alcohol dependent during pregnancy what support they would have liked to receive. Here is what they had to say: 

“Kindness. Compassion. Counselling. I needed someone to say, ‘it’s ok’, I understand, you’re not doing this by choice. You are not doing this to harm your baby.” 

“I was fearful. Fearful of the potential harm which could be caused to my baby but fearful of giving up alcohol. I needed help planning a way forward.” 

“Someone to talk to me…maybe a doctor, maybe a nurse, maybe another recovered alcoholic, another mother. Somebody who has walked in these shoes.” 

Resources

We’ve worked with NOFASD Australia to develop resources about alcohol and pregnancy for Alcohol and Drug Workers. 

Pregnant woman at doctor’s office
Happy young woman sitting inside using a laptop computer
Happy young woman using a laptop computer inside

We’d love to hear from you

We are conducting a survey to evaluate these resources and we’d love to hear your views. Let us know what you think and you’ll go in the draw to win one of four $75 e-gift cards.

This study titled Consumer perceptions of alcohol and pregnancy health education materials has been approved by the University of Adelaide’s Human Research Ethics Committee (Approval Number: H-2022-153)

Common questions

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is risky for both the mum and the developing baby. Alcohol increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and babies being born prematurely, small for gestational age, or with low birth weight.

It can also lead to a baby being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a lifelong disability.

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol advise that to prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol.

FASD is a lifelong disability caused by alcohol exposure during pregnancy. It is the leading preventable non-genetic developmental disability in Australia.

People with FASD can experience lifelong physical, behavioural, and cognitive challenges and may need daily support. Many people with FASD experience:

  • physical and emotional developmental delay.
  • impaired speech and language development.
  • learning problems, such as problems with memory and attention.
  • difficulty controlling behaviour.

These challenges can affect each person with FASD in different ways. For people living with FASD and their families, having access to diagnosis, disability support funding, services, and early intervention results in better outcomes throughout their lives. As with any disability, each person living with FASD has their strengths and challenges.

People with FASD may have challenges with:

  • coordination
  • attention
  • memory
  • learning
  • speech and language
  • cognition
  • reasoning and judgment
  • impulse control and hyperactivity
  • managing emotions
  • life skills, social skills, and relationships

People with FASD also have a range of strengths, talents, and interests. Access to diagnosis, disability support funding, services, and early intervention results in better outcomes throughout their lives.

The advice is that when trying for a baby and when pregnant you should not drink alcohol.

Most people are unaware of the exact time they become pregnant, so it is important not to drink alcohol when trying to conceive. From conception, well before the pregnancy is confirmed, alcohol can damage the developing baby.

Alcohol can also impact the fertility of both partners and increase the time it takes to get pregnant.

Any alcohol consumed crosses the placenta to the developing baby, which increases the risk of damaging the developing organs and systems of the body, including the brain and central nervous system.

Any alcohol increases the risk of the baby being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Alcohol can impact the developing baby at any stage of pregnancy – leading to the advice not to drink alcohol when pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

The risk of FASD, and adverse outcomes for the mum and developing baby, increase with the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption. There is no identified safe level of alcohol during pregnancy.

There is no identified safe time to drink alcohol throughout pregnancy.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of a baby being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Alcohol also increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and babies being born prematurely, small for gestational age, or with low birth weight.

Alcohol can damage the baby’s development at any time during the pregnancy because different organs and systems of the body are developing at different times.

While all organs and systems can be affected, the baby’s brain – which is developing throughout pregnancy – is the organ most severely damaged by alcohol. Alcohol can impact both brain structure and functions. Other body parts develop at different points during pregnancy, and exposure to alcohol at these critical times can damage systems and organs such as sight, hearing, lung and heart functions.

All types of alcohol consumed during pregnancy can cause damage to the developing baby and increase the risk of FASD – be it beer, wine, or spirits.

Not drinking alcohol is safest for the baby when breastfeeding. This is because developing infant brains are more vulnerable to alcohol than adults. Research has found alcohol in breastmilk has been linked to reduced verbal IQ, lower cognitive ability, and slowed growth.

This is in addition to the potential short-term effects like disruption to a baby’s sleep and feeding difficulties due to reductions in milk supply and changes in milk flow.

If alcohol is consumed, there are evidence-based strategies that can ensure breastmilk is alcohol-free. For example, waiting two hours per standard drink before feeding the baby, using the Feed Safe app to know when the breastmilk is alcohol-free or expressing before alcohol consumption so the baby can be fed by bottle.

The only way to eliminate alcohol from breastmilk is to wait for the body to process the alcohol, which takes an average of two hours per standard drink.

Expressing milk and discarding it after drinking alcohol, also known as ‘pumping and dumping’, will not remove alcohol from breastmilk. If there is alcohol in the blood, it is also in the breastmilk.

If alcohol is consumed, wait two hours per standard drink before feeding the baby, use the Feed Safe app to know when the breastmilk is alcohol-free, or express milk before alcohol consumption so someone else can feed the baby by bottle while the alcohol remains in the body.

Looking for training?

Update your knowledge and skills with our eLearning course, Supporting alcohol-free pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s free and accredited by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Australian College of Midwives (ACM), the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM).  

This short online course provides information about how to:

  • explain the latest evidence about the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, when trying to conceive and when breastfeeding
  • describe the impact of alcohol at all phases of pregnancy, including the early weeks
  • use the validated AUDIT-C tool for assessing alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
  • provide positive reinforcement, strengths-based brief intervention, or referral, according to the assessed level of risk.
  • confidently provide advice that is consistent with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Alcohol Guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) partnered with Medcast and consulted a range of health professionals to produce this evidence-based eLearning course. 

The course contains five modules and three case studies, one of which assesses learning. It is accredited and covers the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy, how to talk about drinking alcohol during pregnancy sensitively and effectively, and how to assess this using a prescribed assessment model.

Other activities include:  

  • A summary of evidence on pregnancy and alcohol  
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder  
  • Brief intervention and motivational interviewing  
  • Breastfeeding and alcohol.  

The course takes approximately  60 to 90 minutes to complete.

Healthcare professional touching pregnant woman's abdomen
Pregnant woman at doctor’s office