NOFASD Australia is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Health.

FASD FAQ – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to questions we frequently get asked about FAS & FASD via our NOFASD Australia support service. If you have further questions or concerns relating to your specific situation please do not hesitate to contact us.

We would like to thank the parents that provided feedback on these FAQs.

If you have a question that is not on this page, please contact us. NOFASD’s qualified and experienced staff will be happy to answer your questions and provide confidential, accurate advice.

More Frequently Asked Questions

Alcohol and Pregnancy - Frequently Asked Questions

The short answer is no. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines state that “to prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol.” Research has found that even small amounts of alcohol can harm your baby, so the safest option is not to consume any alcohol during pregnancy. Read more on our page What is a safe amount to drink.

People also ask:

  • Can I have a glass of wine while pregnant?
  • Can I drink beer while pregnant?

The answer to all these questions is still no – because there is no identified safe level of alcohol, the only safe option is to drink nothing at all. Consuming an alcoholic beverage while you are pregnant is not safe for your unborn baby. Even small amounts of alcohol can harm our developing baby. For more information watch this video by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

Because there is no proven safe amount of alcohol which you can drink during pregnancy, ANY alcohol consumption may result in harm to the developing fetus.  As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout the pregnancy, including before a woman knows she is pregnant.

People also ask:

  • Will one drink harm my baby?
  • Is it better to drink wine instead of spirits when you are pregnant?

No amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy is guaranteed to be completely ‘safe’ or ‘risk-free’ for a developing baby. We know that any alcohol consumption changes some biological processes in the cells of the mother and baby; therefore, it is safer to not drink at all during pregnancy. All forms of alcohol are equally harmful.  Read more about alcohol and pregnancy on the CDC website.

Alcohol is a neurotoxin (poison) and a teratogen (an agent that is known to cause birth defects and permanent brain injury in the fetus). Alcohol crosses the placenta into the baby’s bloodstream and the baby does not have the ability to metabolise alcohol safely. Even small amounts of alcohol can have a big impact on health, the most severe outcome being Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

People also ask:

  • Can my baby die if I drink alcohol during my pregnancy?

Yes, as stated on the Australian Government Department of Health website there is a chance you can have a miscarriage if you consume alcohol while pregnant.

From as early as week 3 in a pregnancy, the fetus is developing major organs and is highly sensitive to harm caused by alcohol.  Much of the baby’s physical development occurs prior to week 12, however, the brain continues to develop throughout the whole pregnancy and is susceptible to harm at any time. For more information, read NOFASD’s blog about drinking when pregnant

People also ask:

  • Can alcohol hurt a baby in the first month?
  • Can drinking in the first week of pregnancy cause miscarriage?
  • Isn’t it only during the first trimester that damage can occur?

 

The effects of alcohol as a teratogen (causing birth defects) are greatest in the first trimester. Parts of the body highly susceptible to harm in the first 4-8 weeks include the heart, CNS (central nervous system), eyes or arms and legs. Research has found that even small amounts of alcohol can harm a baby.

In the first two weeks after conception, the embryo has not yet developed to the stage where abnormalities can occur – instead, the effect of alcohol is more likely to result in miscarriage. Many women are unaware they are pregnant at this stage. You can find out more about the risk of miscarriage from this article.

The fetus is developing most of its major organs and external body parts during the first 12 weeks (1st trimester) of pregnancy so that is the time of the highest risk of harm to your baby. However, the brain continues to develop and grow rapidly throughout pregnancy so alcohol can still cause significant damage after the first trimester.

The NHMRC guidelines advise that “women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not drink alcohol.” This is because if a mother drinks when she is breastfeeding, the alcohol crosses into the breastmilk and the concentration of alcohol in her breastmilk is the same as that in her bloodstream. Alcohol stays in breastmilk for as long as it remains in the bloodstream, so not drinking alcohol is the safest option. You may wish to download the Feedsafe app so you have accurate information to make the best choice for your family.

It is estimated that 1 in 13 pregnancies which are exposed to alcohol will result in a child born with FASD. There are a lot of factors which contribute to how much harm alcohol causes, including a primary factor being genetics. As we cannot predict the effect of the mother or the child’s genetics, the only way to guarantee that a baby is healthy is to consume no alcohol during pregnancy. Twin studies have found that about half of fraternal twins have different outcomes even though they are exposed to exactly the same amount of alcohol. Although an estimated 12 out of 13 alcohol exposed pregnancies do not result in FASD, research has found that even small amounts of alcohol can harm a baby. Outcomes from prenatal alcohol exposure can include impacted academic performance, social skills, attention, behaviour, cognition, language skills, memory, and visual and motor development.

An Australian standard drink contains 10g of alcohol (12.5ml of pure alcohol). For a full list of standard drinks please visit the ADF website

chart outlining the standard drink measurement in australia

No, it is not better to use alcohol to help with stress.  Alcohol is a drug that can cause serious harm to an unborn child, more so than stress. Try other strategies to reduce your stress, such as exercise, talking to someone you trust, relaxing outdoors, or speaking to a counsellor. Check out these strategies to reduce stress from Health Direct and HealthlineMind the Bump is a free mindfulness app for individuals and couples, which helps support emotional wellbeing in preparation for having a baby. Where alcohol exposure has occurred, lowering stress levels reduces the likelihood of negative outcomes for the baby.

Australia has a strong drinking culture, with alcohol commonly used for socialising, relaxation, and to cope with stress and sadness. It can be very challenging to navigate this culture when pregnant. Read these tips for saying no to alcohol. Alcohol can also have long term negative health impacts for you. If you’re struggling to stop drinking, please contact a support service.

No, there is no evidence that a father’s drinking can cause FASD. A paper written in 2019 summarised evidence that fathers’ alcohol consumption prior to conception may affect an unborn child on the genetic level and make them more vulnerable to developing FASD. See here to read more on the Genetic and Epigenetic Perspectives on the Role of Fathers in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

The best approach is to be honest and upfront in explaining FASD, but not forceful. Explain what FASD is and the risks of drinking alcohol and not using contraception. Make it clear you are not criticizing her or her lifestyle but are just worried about what could happen – tell your friend you want her to be armed with all the facts.

A great way to support her is to not drink when you are socializing with her. Australian culture can make it difficult to abstain from alcohol, and we know it’s much easier to say no to alcohol with a support person. Your friend may be interested in reading this birth mother’s story or this mother’s description of raising a child with FASD

Yes, combining alcohol with other drugs use can be worse for the developing baby. This was confirmed by a recent study published in a book called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, Prevention, and Treatment. Combining alcohol and cigarettes is also harmful.

People also ask:

  • Wouldn’t it be worse if I used drugs like cocaine or heroin during the pregnancy rather than alcohol?

No, alcohol is also a teratogen so it’s effects on a developing fetus can be as harmful, or sometimes more harmful, than other drugs. Alcohol can cause a permanent, lifelong brain injury to a baby that cannot be repaired. Follow this link for more information on pregnancy, drugs and alcohol.

It’s best to stop drinking from now on. Every day that you don’t drink alcohol increases the chance that your baby will be born healthy. Researchers estimate that about 1 in 13 pregnancies exposed to alcohol will result in a baby born with FASD. Other factors, including stress levels and nutrition, also impact the baby’s development. This means that the best thing you can do for your baby is to keep yourself healthy and avoid situations which are stressful. NOFASD’s Helpline is available on 1800 860 613 if you want more information. 

If you want support to stop or reduce your alcohol consumption, click here to view FASD support services,  visit your GP, speak to a counsellor or contact NOFASD.

Mind the Bump is a free Mindfulness Meditation App to help individuals and couples support their mental and emotional wellbeing in preparation for having a baby. Where alcohol exposure has occurred, lowering stress levels reduces the likelihood of negative outcomes for the baby.

People also ask:

  • I just found out I am pregnant (or my girlfriend is) and have been drinking alcohol in this period – could it harm my child?
  • What can I do if I have consumed alcohol during my pregnancy?

The best course of action is to not consume any more alcohol and look after yourself and your unborn child. The sooner you stop drinking the better it is for the development of your baby. The CDC suggests that you talk with your health care provider and ensure regular prenatal check-ups.

The best course of action is to stop consuming alcohol now. It is strongly recommended that women and men stop drinking alcohol before they start trying to become pregnant. This is because alcohol can harm a fetus from the moment of conception, and can also impact a baby’s health even before conception. You may wish to read the CDC’s tips for women and for men who are planning a pregnancy. Read these tips for saying no to alcohol and this information about how a father’s drinking can harm his baby.

Yes, you should be worried about FASD. As stated in a recent article by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, research indicates that up to 50% of Australian pregnancies are unplanned. Accidental prenatal alcohol exposure often occurs before a woman is aware that she is pregnant. Serious harm can occur during these early weeks.

If women are sexually active and not using contraception, there is a risk of FASD if they are also drinking alcohol regularly. If you are drinking alcohol and engaging in sexual activity the best solution is to use contraception to prevent pregnancy.

If you are not already pregnant the best way to minimise the risk is to use contraception to prevent pregnancy. If you are already pregnant the best way to protect your baby is to not drink any alcohol at all.  

If you’re struggling to stop drinking, please contact these ‘drug and alcohol in pregnancy’ services at major women’s and children’s hospitals

No. According to the most recent research, there is NO safe level of alcohol and NO safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines state that:

  1. To prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol.
  2. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.

There is a lot of misinformation out there, and research is being done on improving the quality and consistency of information provided to pregnant women about alcohol consumption. NOFASD’s survey on alcohol and pregnancy in Australia found that inaccurate health information and mixed messages are often received, and not enough women received information about alcohol and pregnancy.  

No woman ever intends to cause harm to their baby by drinking alcohol. No woman chooses FASD. There is no blame. FASD is a condition that is an outcome of parents either not being aware of the dangers of alcohol use when pregnant or planning a pregnancy, or not being supported to stay healthy and strong during pregnancy. 

People also ask:

  • FASD only happens because of bad parenting, doesn’t it?

No. Alcohol can harm a developing fetus at any point during a pregnancy, even before the pregnancy is confirmed. As 50% of Australian women experience an unplanned pregnancy at some time, prenatal alcohol exposure may occur before the family becomes aware of the pregnancy. An Australian study found that 59% of babies are prenatally exposed to alcohol. We know there are lots of factors which contribute to whether or not a baby is born with FASD. No-one intentionally harms their developing child.

No one knows the minimum amount of alcohol which can cause FASD in an unborn child, but studies have found that even low-level drinking can harm the developing fetus. The safest option for your unborn child is not to consume any alcohol while you are pregnant. This includes not drinking if you are not using contraception, as alcohol consumption even in the early weeks of pregnancy can cause FASD. There is no known safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy – it’s not worth the risk.

No, there is no evidence that a father’s sperm can cause FASD, but research shows that men’s drinking affects their sperm, which may cause their child to be more genetically susceptible to developing FASD.

It is important to note that partners play a significant role in a woman’s alcohol use during pregnancy. Read Queensland father Tony’s experience of supporting alcohol-free pregnancies.

The best way to support your partner/wife is to abstain from drinking alcohol yourself during the pregnancy. Watch this YouTube video by NSW Health for a great reminder that partners are an essential source of support and knowledge. Men can read how you can be a great dad even before your baby is born and how to plan an alcohol-free pregnancy. You and your partner might also like to read these tips on saying no to alcohol.

The best course of action is to read up on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, get all the facts and then discuss this with your partner. Let her know you are not criticizing her, but you need to discuss the health of your baby. A great way to support her is to stop drinking yourself, for the duration of the pregnancy. Australian culture can make it difficult to abstain from alcohol, and we know it’s much easier to say no to alcohol with a support person than alone. Your partner may be interested in reading this birth mother’s story or this mother’s description of raising a child with FASD.

There are a number of support services who can help you to reduce or cease drinking. The Australian Government Department of Health also lists services for those wishing to change their alcohol use. You could check out Hello Sunday Morning or download their Daybreak app, join up for some fun activities with Untoxicated, or visit SMART recovery for support with addiction.

Have a talk with your partner/husband about their drinking. Tell them you are not judging or criticizing, you just struggle with the urge to drink. Explain the negative consequences of drinking and ask for their support in looking after your baby’s health. Men might find it helpful to read about how they can be a great dad before their baby is born or to watch this video by NSW Health on being a great dad and partner.

There are many reasons you can give for choosing not to drink, and you don’t have to tell people you’re pregnant until you’re ready. This blog has many great ideas for saying no to alcohol, including:

  • I’m driving, no thanks!
  • No thanks, I just finished one.
  • I’ve had my limit for tonight.
  • No thanks, I’ve got an early start tomorrow.

It can be difficult to deal with the questions, disappointment and peer pressure that come with saying no to alcohol, and we know that many women are pressured to drink alcohol, even when they’re pregnant! Having a friend or partner to support you is a big help, and many people say that bringing their own zero-alcohol beer, wine or spirits to parties stops the questions and allows them to blend in. You can also find some great mocktail recipes on the NOFASD website.

Remember that it is your body and therefore your choice. Standing by your choices is empowering and is beneficial for your health as well as for healthy conception and pregnancy.

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019 found that 35% of women drank alcohol while pregnant, a figure which has been reducing over the last two decades. However, research which dug deeper found that a much higher 59% of Australian women drank at some point during their pregnancy, with most of these women stopping as soon as they found out they were pregnant. These early weeks before a pregnancy is recognised pose a big risk for negative birth outcomes including FASD. This study found that 18.5% of Australian women binge drank before realizing that they were pregnant. No woman intentionally harms her child, and no woman is to blame for the birth of a child with FASD. More information is needed to ensure that everyone understands the risks of alcohol use and unplanned pregnancy.

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