Alcohol & Pregnancy

Alcohol and Pregnancy

Is there a safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy?

It is not safe to drink any amount of alcohol, at any time during pregnancy. This is because alcohol affects how the fetus develops and can cause permanent brain damage to the fetus. If a woman is pregnant or planning to get pregnant she should stop drinking and remain alcohol-free to keep herself and her baby safe from alcohol-related harms. 

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause the fetus to have lifelong physical and mental disabilities. This is called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). During pregnancy, alcohol passes from the mother to the fetus and travels through the fetus’ body. The alcohol blocks the fetus’ ability to get enough food and oxygen for normal development of the brain, and affects how they develop and grow.

The effects of FASD can include:

A baby born with FASD can have serious and life-long difficulties with:

  • Learning new things, like math or reading
  • Remembering things
  • Paying attention
  • Getting along with others
  • Thinking things through or solving problems
  • Learning how to talk or understand language

Is it OK to drink a “little” alcohol or drink on special occasions?

No one knows for sure how much alcohol causes FASD. This means that no amount of alcohol is considered safe during pregnancy. The safest choice for a woman who is pregnant is to stop drinking alcohol to reduce the harm to the baby.

Will drinking alcohol while breastfeeding harm the baby?

If a woman is breastfeeding, alcohol can be passed to her baby through the milk. This may affect the baby’s feeding, its sleep and how it develops. If a woman chooses to drink alcohol while breastfeeding and wants more information on how to safely do this, (like pumping breast milk or breastfeeding before drinking alcohol) she should speak to a nurse at the health centre. 

Are some types of alcohol less harmful than others?

All types of alcohol can be harmful to a growing baby, including beer, wine, coolers, ciders and hard liquor (like gin or vodka). There is no safe type of alcohol to drink while pregnant.

What if a woman drinks alcohol before she knows she is pregnant?

Sometimes a pregnancy is not planned. The sooner a pregnant woman stops drinking, the more she decreases the risk of harm to her child. If a woman is concerned about the alcohol she drank before knowing about her pregnancy, she can visit the community health centre and talk to a nurse.  Her talk will be completely private.

How can family, friends and partners support pregnant woman?

  • By encouraging alcohol-free pregnancies
  • By stopping or reducing their own alcohol use
  • By finding new and fun alcohol-free activities to do together
  • By providing support and encouragement, being non-judgmental, and helping to create a stress-free pregnancy

Support to stay alcohol-free during pregnancy

  • Talk to a midwife, your local social worker or wellness counsellor
  • Visit the health centre and talk to a nurse
  • Contact the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP) in your community
  • Ask for help to stay alcohol-free from partners, friends and family

Additional support:

  • Kamatsiaqtut Help Line (867-979-3333)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (if there is one in the community)
  • Al-Anon (if there is one in the community)

Download resources here.