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12 Days of Christmas - Day 11

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders


If you drink alcohol during pregnancy you risk causing harm to your baby. Sometimes this can result in mental and physical problems in the baby, called foetal alcohol syndrome. This can occur because alcohol in the mother's blood passes to her baby through the placenta. A baby cannot process alcohol as well as its mothercan, which means the alcohol can damage cells in their brain, spinal cord and other parts of their body, and disrupt their development in the womb. This can result in the loss of the pregnancy. Babies that survive may be left with lifelong problems.

Foetal alcohol syndrome is a type of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), the name for all the various problems that can affect children if their mother drinks alcohol in pregnancy. A baby’s brain and body are growing and developing for the entire nine months of pregnancy. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can affect how the baby’s brain and body develops and can cause a condition known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

It is unknown if there is a safe amount of alcohol that you can drink when you are pregnant. However, we do know that even small amounts of alcohol cross over the placenta into your baby’s circulation. That’s why when you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the health care professionals will recommend that no alcohol is the safest choice.

There is no particular treatment for foetal alcohol syndrome, and the damage to the child's brain and organs cannot be reversed. But an early diagnosis and support can make a big difference. Once the condition has been diagnosed, a team of healthcare professionals can assess the needs of the affected person and offer appropriate educational and behavioural strategies to meet these needs. You may also find it helpful to contact a support group for people with foetal alcohol syndrome. These can be a good source of advice, and they may be able to connect you with other people in a similar situation.

Foetal alcohol syndrome is completely avoidable if you do not drink alcohol while you're pregnant.

The risk is higher the more you drink, although there's no proven "safe" level of alcohol in pregnancy. Not drinking at all is the safest approach.

If you're pregnant and struggling with an alcohol problem, talk to a midwife, doctor or pharmacist.

It's never too late to stop drinking: stopping at any point during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of problems in your baby.

Confidential help and support is also available from:

  • Drinkline – the national alcohol helpline; if you're worried about your own or someone else's drinking, call this free helpline on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm)
  • We Are With You – a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities manage the effects of alcohol and drug misuse
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – a free self-help group; its "12-step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups
  • NOFAS-UK helpline on 020 8458 5951

You can also find your nearest alcohol support services or read advice on cutting down your drinking and alcohol in pregnancy.


You can get support, resources and advice for all of the issues around FASD from FASD Hub Scotland - 

Orkney Alcohol and Drugs Partnership