People need and expect clear advice
Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive need and expect clear advice on substances that can harm their pregnancy and developing baby – like alcohol.
One in seven women drink alcohol after becoming aware of their pregnancy1 and one in four who are pregnant or would consider having a baby soon, are unaware that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)2.
Health professionals play an important role in providing clear and accurate information and advice about how to have a healthy pregnancy.
The moments you spend with her matter
This includes making it routine practice to ask about alcohol, assessing use with a validated tool, and providing advice and support based on the level of risk.
As one of the most trusted sources of information on pregnancy, health professionals are vital in communicating the updated National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, which 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.
Facts at a glance
No established safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and when trying to conceive has been found3. This was the conclusion of a review of evidence during the preparation of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and babies being born prematurely, small for gestational age, or with low birth weight4,5,6.
A developing baby’s blood alcohol level will increase as the mother’s blood alcohol level increases.
Prenatal alcohol exposure at any stage of pregnancy can disrupt fetal development and can damage developing organs including the brain7,8. The dose and timing of exposure impacts the organs and systems affected and the extent to which they are affected9.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a consequence of prenatal alcohol exposure, is the leading cause of preventable non-genetic developmental disability in Australia.
The Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD was produced in 2016 to assist in the diagnosis and management of FASD. Diagnosis is dependent on impairment in at least 3 of 10 specified domains of central nervous system structure or function, and the status of pre-natal alcohol exposure is confirmed or unknown10.
Women are likely to accept advice that they should not drink alcohol during pregnancy if this is discussed routinely in an open, factual, culturally safe, and supportive manner.
Some women may find it difficult to stop drinking and will need further support. If they are drinking at high levels, they should not stop without medical supervision.
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).
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)
Perspectives from health professionals
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2020. National Drug Strategy Household survey 2019. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/illicit-use-of-drugs/national-drug-strategy-household-survey-2019/contents/summary
- Kantar Public. 2021. Alcohol and pregnancy. Research conducted by Kantar Public on behalf of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. https://fare.org.au/wp-content/uploads/263406881_Alcohol-and-pregnancy-Topline-report_FINAL-1.pdf
- National Health and Medical Research Council. 2020. Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Commonwealth of Australia. Canberra.
- Bailey, B.A. & Sokol, R.J. 2011. Prenatal alcohol exposure and miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery and sudden infant death syndrome. Alcohol Research & Health. 34(1) 86-91
- Patra, J., Bakker, R., Irving, H. et al. 2011. Dose-response relationship between alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy and the risks of low birthweight, preterm birth and small for gestational age. A systematic review and meta-analyses. BJOG. 188. 1411-21
- Aliya, M.H., Wilson, R.E., Zoorob R. et al. 2008. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the risk of early stillbirth among singletons. Alcohol. 42(5) 369-374.
- Caputo, C., Wood, E. & Jabbour, L. 2016. Impact of fetal alcohol exposure on body systems: A systematic review. Birth defects research part C. Embryo Today 108(2) 174-80
- Mattson, S.N., Bernes, G.A. & Doyle, L.R. 2019. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: A review of the neurobehavioural deficits associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 43(6) 1046-1062
- O’Leary, C.M., Bower, C., Zubrick S.R. et al 2010. A new method of prenatal alcohol classification accounting for dose, pattern and timing of exposure. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 64:956-962
- Bower, C. and Elliott, E.J. 2016. On behalf of the Steering Group. Report to the Australian Government Department of Health: Australian Guide to the diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). https://www.fasdhub.org.au/fasd-information/assessment-and-diagnosis/guide-to-diagnosis/