pregnancy-and-alcohol Leaflet

HSE marks International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day

As part of the HSE’s campaign, and to mark International FASD Day (9th September) the HSE has developed a new leaflet for pregnant women to provide clear guidance on how to avoid the risk of FASD, download attachment above.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy puts the unborn baby at risk of FASD, which encompasses a wide range of developmental problems caused by exposure to alcohol during pregnancy that may lead to life-long difficulties.

The need to highlight the risks associated with FASD are emphasised by a recent study showing a high prevalence of alcohol consumption during pregnancy in Ireland. (1).

Dr Mary O’Mahony, HSE Specialist in Public Health Medicine said that pregnant women often receive conflicting advice about drinking alcohol during pregnancy from a variety of different sources. However, pregnant women need to know that no amount of alcohol can be said to be safe during pregnancy. An information leaflet is now available providing clear guidance on how to avoid the risk of FASD.

“Drinking alcohol during pregnancy carries a risk of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). FASD is a term used to describe the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may be physical or mental, such as behavioural or learning disabilities, with possible lifelong implications.”

Dr O’Mahony advised “that when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her unborn baby. During pregnancy alcohol passes from the mother’s bloodstream through the placenta and into the baby’s bloodstream, where it can affect its development. This damage may not be detected at birth, but may later show up in the form of behavioural, social, learning and attention difficulties in childhood, adolescence and throughout adulthood.”

The HSE Alcohol Programme is working to provide women who are pregnant or those who may be thinking about becoming pregnant with advice on an alcohol free pregnancy.
The Programme has established a reference group on FASD to work towards achieving the actions in key national strategies to support an alcohol free pregnancy and reduce FASD.

Further Pregnancy and alcohol information

The HSE Drugs & Alcohol Helpline 1800 459 459 (Mon.-Fri. 9.30am-5.30pm)
HSE Alcohol Programme

For further information please contact:


1. O’Keeffe LM, Kearney PM, McCarthy FP, Khashan AS, Greene RA, North RA, et al. Prevalence and predictors of alcohol use during pregnancy: findings from international multicentre cohort studies. BMJ Open. 2015;5(7):e006323.
This study,which examined data from the Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints (SCOPE) study, the Growing up in Ireland (GUI) study and the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System Ireland (PRAMS Ireland), found ‘alcohol use during pregnancy is highly prevalent, and evidence from this cross-cohort and cross-country comparison shows that gestational alcohol exposure may occur in over 75% of pregnancies in the UK and Ireland. Although low proportions of women engaged in heavy drinking, the adverse consequences of heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy on birth outcomes, long-term gross motor function, and social, cognitive, emotional and behavioural outcomes in offspring make heavy gestational alcohol consumption a high public health priority. Additionally, since most women who consume alcohol do so at lower levels where the offspring growth and development effects are less well understood, the widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern’.