Alcohol Drugs Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Many pregnancies are unplanned. As a result, it is common for babies to be exposed to alcohol and drugs. It is important to discuss this with a healthcare provider, get regular prenatal care and reach out for support.

Alcohol and pregnancy 

Alcohol and pregnancy don't mix! Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to a permanent disability called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Experts recommend that women planning a pregnancy or are already pregnant avoid drinking all types of alcohol throughout their pregnancy. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause permanent birth defects and brain damage to your baby. To help your baby be as healthy as possible, stop drinking alcohol when you are trying to get pregnant, or as soon as you suspect you are pregnant.

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)? 

FASD is the term used to describe all of the physical and learning disabilities that are caused by alcohol use in pregnancy. Drinking alcohol in pregnancy can cause:

  • Brain damage
  • Vision and hearing difficulties
  • Bones, limbs and fingers not properly formed
  • Heart, kidney, liver and other organ damage
  • Growth deficiencies

Alcohol use in pregnancy affects the developing brain and can cause brain damage. This creates problems with:

  • Learning and remembering
  • Thinking things through and understanding consequences
  • Getting along with others
  • Learning from past mistakes and solving problems
  • Making good decisions

FASD is a permanent life-long disorder. Teens and adults with FASD may have:

  • Depression
  • Trouble with the law
  • Drug or alcohol problems
  • Difficulty living on their own
  • Trouble keeping a job
  • Difficulty understanding how their behaviour affects others
How can partners help? 

The best way to help a pregnant woman to remain alcohol free is to be supportive and encouraging and to ask her how you can help. Supporting your partner by joining her with alcohol-free mocktails and socializing without alcohol are great ways to provide support without nagging. Some studies have found that partners who pressure a woman to stop drinking in pregnancy may cause some women to drink more. 

For more information, check the What partners can do to help resource. 

How can healthcare providers help? 

Don't wait to talk about your alcohol use until pregnancy. If your health care provider has not talked to you about alcohol, ask to discuss it long before you plan to get pregnant.

It is recommended that all healthcare providers talk to women who are able to get pregnant about their alcohol and birth control use and the risks of using alcohol in pregnancy. If women are using alcohol at all, reliable birth control is recommended to prevent pregnancy. The alcohol screening tool, T-ACE, is a screening tool that can be used in pregnancy. Another helpful resource to consider is: Why Do Girls and Women Drink Alcohol during Pregnancy? Information for Service Providers

For more information, check the Information for Professionals page. 

Alcohol and breastfeeding 

At present, there is limited research on the effects of alcohol during breastfeeding. What is known is:

  • Alcohol passes into a woman's breast milk
  • The baby's nervous system is developing rapidly at this stage, and 
  • The baby has an underdeveloped ability to metabolize alcohol

If you decide to have an occasional alcoholic drink, it is best to avoid breastfeeding for three hours after consuming one standard alcoholic beverage.

For more information see Canada's Low-risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines

Other drugs, pregnancy and breastfeeding 

Drug use of any kind, unless recommended by your healthcare provider, is not recommended in pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Learn more about prenatal and parenting services, including information for alcohol and drug treatment services in Waterloo Region.

Helpful information can also be found on the Planning a Pregnancy page.


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