Ask DadPad, Health & Wellbeing, Pregnancy

Ask DadPad: Is it safe for my partner to drink during pregnancy?

Posted on 5th July 2024

This week, for Alcohol Awareness Week, we thought it might be useful to have a quick look at an often contentious subject: whether or not expectant mums should drink any alcohol during pregnancy.

According to the NHS website:

It’s recommended that if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant you should not drink alcohol.  This will keep any risk to your baby to a minimum.

This is because the consumption of alcohol by mum during her pregnancy could result in baby developing a serious and permanent condition called foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

What is FASD?

The FASD Network UK explain that FSAD “is a term used to describe the permanent impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol during pregnancy resulting in a spectrum of physical, neurological, emotional and behavioural regulation characteristics.”

These effects can vary in seriousness from individual to individual, but can include having difficulties with:

  • movement, balance, vision and hearing
  • learning, such as problems with thinking, concentration and memory
  • managing emotions and developing social skills
  • hyperactivity and impulse control
  • communication, such as problems with speech
  • joints, muscles, bones, and organs – such as the kidneys and the heart

Many people with FASD will go undiagnosed or will not have their condition identified until later in their lives; there’s also evidence that, as well as the obvious challenges that a child will FASD will face in their development and education, it is also linked with a range of difficulties within adulthood, such as higher levels of unemployment and imprisonment amongst sufferers.

Despite the many hardships that people with FASD will face, it’s also worth remembering – as noted by the FASD Network UK – that:

They also have a unique set of strengths and gifts that, when nurtured and supported, demonstrates their unlimited potential in these areas. Some common personal and skills areas include being caring, articulate, friendly, musical, creative, practical, athletic, animals skills, nature skills etc. Many who have been well supported are moving into fulfilled adult lives. Some are in professional careers, have attended university and are raising their own children.

How does a baby develop FASD?

The National Organisation for FASD explain on their website that alcohol is a teratogen, which is something that can cause an embryo/fetus (i.e. your developing baby, in mum’s tummy) to develop an abnormality. Teratogens have the ability to move from mum’s bloodstream and into across into baby’s bloodstream via the placenta which connects the two.  Whereas we, as adults, are able to filter toxins from alcohol via our livers, the undeveloped liver within the unborn fetus is not able to do this, and so the alcohol will move around baby’s body and potentially cause damage to its brain cells and/or nervous system.  This can happen at any stage of pregnancy. 

But surely it’s only heavy drinking that can cause FASD?

We might think this but the NHS is keen to stress that – whilst the risk of FASD definitely increases the more that mum drinks – there is no proven ‘safe’ level of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy.

This means that the safest approach for a mum-to-be is not to drink any alcohol at all, once she knows that she is pregnant, or is thinking about becoming pregnant. 

What if my partner has been drinking alcohol during her pregnancy?

The overriding advice from the National Organisation for FASD is not to panic. After all, not every pregnancy where the embryo or fetus is exposed to alcohol will result in baby developing FASD.

Instead, baby’s mum should aim to stop drinking as soon as she realises that she is expecting.  If she is or you are concerned about this – e.g. if she is a dependent drinker – or if either of you have any other worries about her pregnancy, she or you should of course speak to the Midwife or other healthcare professional supporting her at this time.

If you have a child that you know was exposed to alcohol during pregnancy, you should take steps to find out more about the symptoms of FASD (you can find out more via the various links at the bottom of this article) and speak to the Health Visitor, GP or other healthcare professional supporting your family for advice if you identify any aspect of your child’s development that causes you to be concerned.

There’s more information on this topic on the National Organisation for FASD’s “I drank before I knew I was pregnant. What do I need to know?webpage.

How can I support my partner in staying alcohol free before and during pregnancy?

As a dad-to-be, it’s really important that you always look to play your part as much as you can.  Obviously, you can’t actually carry or birth the baby yourself, but you can do your utmost to support your partner – and giving up alcohol alongside her is a great way to do this.

You can find out more about how you can do this via our blog post from last year: How much alcohol should I be drinking as a new dad?

 Who can help us if we’re struggling?

As well as speaking with your GP or the Midwife supporting your family during pregnancy, you could also seek confidential help and support from a number of national organisations who support people concerned about their own or another’s drinking, including:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous – call their FREE nationwide helpline on 0800 917 7650 for information on how to get help locally;
  • Drinkaware – with a FREE national helpline to call: 0300 123 1110 (Mon-Fri, 9.00am-8.00pm; Sat-Sun, 11.00am-4.00pm);
  • Drymester – a health awareness campaign from the team at NHS Greater Manchester, highlighting the risks of drinking whilst pregnant and helping parents-to-be stay alcohol free;
  • National Organisation for FASD – also with a helpline: 020 8458 5951 (leave a message and someone will call you back); and
  • We Are With You – as well as the support that they provide themselves, their website also contains a directory of drug and alcohol services available across the UK.

References and Further Reading:

FASD Network UK:

National Organisation for FASD:

FASD Hub Scotland


FASD Network UK (undated) What is Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)? [online]

Humphriss et al (2010) The effect of drinking alcohol during pregnancy on balance ability in childhood. Alcohol Change UK [online]

National Organisation for FASD (undated) Alcohol in pregnancy. [online]

NHS (2023) Drinking alcohol while pregnant. [online]

NHS (2023) Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. [online]

Nicholls, James (2018) Drinking in pregnancy: how should the guidance work? Alcohol Change UK [online]