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Pregnancy and Alcohol: HSE launches information campaign on Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day

HSE Press Release: Monday, 9th September 2019

No amount of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy is safe for your baby

Ireland is estimated to have the 3rd highest rate of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders


To mark Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day on Monday 9th September, the HSE’s Alcohol Programme has launched a new information campaign to provide clarity and advice for pregnant women about alcohol and pregnancy.

During the development of the campaign we spoke with women who are pregnant and women actively considering becoming pregnant. The overriding message we heard from these women was that there is a lot of misleading information and confusion around alcohol and pregnancy:

“There are so many opinions, voices, feelings and sources of advice that lead to confusion. There is a lack of clarity amongst this sea of voices and it can be very confusing to know the ‘right thing’ to do.”

The fact is that no amount of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy is safe for your baby. Alcohol passes from the mother’s blood into the baby’s blood via the placenta and can damage a baby’s developing brain and body. Ireland is estimated to have the 3rd highest rate of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, including Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, in a global study of 187 countries.*  One of the best things you can do during pregnancy to keep yourself and your baby healthy is to avoid drinking alcohol. This new leaflet explains why.

Dr Mary T. O’Mahony, Specialist in Public Health Medicine with the HSE, says:

“Pregnant women receive conflicting advice about drinking during pregnancy, and are often assured by family and friends that an occasional drink won’t do any harm. But the fact is that there is no proven level of safe drinking during pregnancy. FASD causes life-long problems for babies.

We do know that heavy or frequent drinking is more dangerous, and the more you drink, the greater the risk to your baby. But the only way to have zero risk, is to drink zero alcohol”.

Marion Rackard from the HSE Alcohol Programme says:

“This new Pregnancy and Alcohol campaign, including an information leaflet, poster and social media messaging, outlines the facts about FASD, and has lots of practical information for women who are pregnant or planning a family about how to plan an alcohol-free pregnancy. We know from talking to women that they can sometimes feel under pressure to drink because other people expect them to or because they don’t want people to guess that they are pregnant. The campaign also provides advice for partners, family and friends on how they can provide support and help make it easier to have an alcohol free pregnancy”.

Recent research by the HSE found that 1 in 2  people in Ireland claim they are aware of illnesses and conditions that affect babies after birth as a result of exposure to alcohol during pregnancy, however only just over 1 in 10 people state they have a good understanding of FASD, its symptoms and its cause.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause:

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD):

FASD causes life-long problems with a baby’s body, brain and development, which can create problems for them as children and later as adults. For example:

  • hyperactivity and poor attention
  • earning difficulties and a lower IQ
  • difficulty controlling behaviour
  • difficulty getting along with other people
  • being smaller than expected
  • problems with eating and sleeping
  • emotional and mental health problems

Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

FAS is more serious and can happen when you drink heavily during your pregnancy. In addition to the signs of FASD listed above, your baby may:

  • be smaller than normal or underweight
  • have damage to their brain and spinal cord
  • have an abnormally small head or eyes, abnormally-shaped ears or facial features
  • problems with the heart and other body organs

FASD and FAS can cause problems throughout a person’s life. There is no cure. Diagnosing and treating the symptoms early can help a child to manage better. 

Further information and supports:

Leaflet: https://www.askaboutalcohol.ie/helpful-resources/leaflets/pregnancy-and-alcohol.PD 

Visit www.askaboutalcohol.ie for more information about alcohol and pregnancy and to find details of support services.

If you are pregnant and finding it difficult to stop drinking please contact your GP or the confidential HSE Drug & Alcohol Helpline for local help and support.

HSE Drug & Alcohol Helpline

Phone: 1800 459 459, Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5.30pm

Email: helpline@hse.ie



*Ireland estimated to have the 3rd highest rate of FASD in a study of the global prevalence of FASD, of 187 countries globally for which observed or predicted estimates of FASD prevalence were available. 

Reference: Lange S, Probst C, Gmel G, Rehm J. Burd L, Popova S.  Global Prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder among Children and Youth.  A systematic review and meta-analysis JAMA Pediatr 2017. Doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.1919



Last updated on: 09 / 09 / 2019