International FASD Awareness Day

International FASD Awareness Day: how does alcohol consumption affect unborn babies?

For any pregnant woman reading up on the dos and don’ts of the next nine months, the guidance concerning alcohol consumption is clear – no amount of alcohol is safe when you are expecting a baby.

However, for women struggling with alcohol misuse, pregnancy can be an incredibly challenging time, requiring additional support and guidance. 

First recognised in 1999 and observed on the 9th September each year, International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (IFASD) Awareness Day was established to raise awareness about a range of conditions that can affect an unborn baby when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, as well as highlighting the importance of remaining alcohol-free during pregnancy.  

In the UK, September is FASD Awareness Month, with the National Organisation for FASD and FASD Network UK offering resources and support for those affected by FASD.

In this blog, we take a closer look at foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and why it’s not safe for pregnant women to drink alcohol while pregnant.

What is foetal alcohol spectrum disorder?

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) can occur when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol during pregnancy, leading to complications in foetal development.

When a person consumes alcohol, it is broken down by the liver, and a proportion of the drug and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream.   

In pregnant women, alcohol can be passed from the mother’s bloodstream to the baby via the placenta.

An unborn baby cannot process alcohol well. This can lead to developmental problems in the womb, and irreversible damage to a baby’s brain and body.

Babies born with FASD can have permanent mental and physical health concerns including (but not limited to) issues with hearing, vision, and speech, learning difficulties, and problems with organs, bones, joints, and muscles.

However, early diagnosis can help ensure mother and family receive the support they need, and that the needs of a child with FASD can be met, including via appropriate healthcare and education.

Forms of FASD include:

  • Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) – the most severe form of FASD caused by drinking during pregnancy. FAS can cause facial abnormalities, learning and mental disabilities, and problems with growth and the central nervous system
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) – this can result in problems with impulse control, memory/attention span and learning and behavioural difficulties
  • Partial foetal alcohol syndrome (PFAS) – resulting in central nervous system and growth problems
  • Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD) – this can include hearing defects, as well as problems with the heart, kidneys, and bones

How much alcohol can harm an unborn baby?

National guidance on alcohol consumption in pregnancy is clear: there is no safe amount of alcohol that a woman can drink while expecting a baby, without posing significant risk to foetal development.

Drinking alcohol, even in low or moderate amounts, can also increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and low-birth weight.

For these reasons, pregnant women are advised to avoid alcohol altogether.

For women who are struggling with alcohol misuse, there are many resources available online to support both them and their families throughout pregnancy and beyond.

These include the National Organisation for FASD, FASD Network UK and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Accredited alcohol testing services

Established in 2004, AlphaBiolabs works with legal professionals, social workers, and local authorities across the UK, providing a range of alcohol testing services, from hair and nail alcohol testing to blood alcohol testing and alcohol monitoring solutions including SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring®.

Throughout 2022, we are also donating £5 from every legal instruction received to four charity partners, as part of our Giving Back campaign.

Each charity works tirelessly to support vulnerable children, young people, and families across the UK. You can learn more about the campaign and our charity partners here.

To request a quote for legal alcohol testing, call us on 0333 600 1300 or email Our Legal team will be happy to discuss your requirements.

You can also support FASD Awareness Month on social media throughout September using the hashtag #FASDmonthUK.

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