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International Guidelines on Drinking and Pregnancy

Below is a table of guidelines on drinking during pregnancy from various countries. (Last updated: December 2009)

Country Standard Drink Drinking Guidelines
Australia 10g

Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing fetus or breastfeeding baby.

For women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, not drinking is the safest option.

For breastfeeding women, not drinking is the safest option. Women should avoid drinking in the first month after delivery until breastfeeding is well established. After that: alcohol intake should be limited to no more than two standard drinks a day; women should avoid drinking immediately before breastfeeding; women who wish to drink alcohol should consider expressing milk in advance.

Canada 13.6g

Low-risk Drinking Guidelines [2], issued by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), recommend: "If you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or about to breastfeed, the safest choice is to drink no alcohol at all."

The Sensible Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy [3] by the Public Health Agency of Canada (2011) warns, "There is no safe amount or safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy."     

Denmark 12.0g
The Danish National Board of Health recommends that women do not drink alcohol during pregnancy. "No exact limit is known for how little a pregnant woman can drink without harming her unborn baby. The recommendation is therefore for pregnant women not to drink any alcohol at all." [4]
France 10g

French Ministry of Health, Youth & Sports recommends that pregnant women avoid drinking alcohol (National Program for Health and Nutrition / Programme National Nutrition Santé, PNNS). [5]

Ireland 10g

Little Book of Women and Alcohol [6], published by Ireland’s Health Promotion Unit in 2003, states: "Stopping drinking during pregnancy is the safest advice. Baby’s vital organs, e.g., heart, brain, and skeleton are formed between 10–50 days after conception. Often, this is before you know you are pregnant. Cutting down or stopping alcohol while trying to become pregnant protects your baby…. There is no known safe level of alcohol use in pregnancy, and stopping completely is advised."

Health Promotion Unit’s Health Files [7] advise that "those who are pregnant or trying for a baby should: drink as little as possible, or avoid alcohol altogether; never drink to excess."

Netherlands 9.9g

Netherlands Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (NIGZ) advises [8]:

"Are you pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to become pregnant? The most safe choice for you and your baby is not to drink alcohol. This is why:

  • Drinking alcohol may reduce fertility (including among men) and raise the chance of a miscarriage;
  • Even an occasional glass of alcohol during pregnancy may be detrimental, since alcohol is a toxic substance and even in small quantities can cause damage to the developing brain;
  • Alcohol consumption by the mother may damage the child’s development during stages of pregnancy…"
New Zealand 10g

Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women: A Background Paper [9], issued by the New Zealand Ministry of Health in 2006 recommends that:

  • "Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid drinking alcohol. (The message from health practitioners to abstain from alcohol during the entire pregnancy is unequivocal and should be promoted by all health practitioners.)
  • Continue avoiding alcohol when breastfeeding, especially during first month (if it is not possible for the woman to abstain from alcohol, they should be advised to limit themselves to 1 to 2 standard drinks occasionally… Mothers who do choose to drink moderately… during breastfeeding, but with to avoid exposing the baby to alcohol [should] wait until maternal blood alcohol level drops, allowing two to three hours to pass after drinking alcohol.)"
Spain 10g

Spanish Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Sanidad y Consumo) advises that pregnant women abstain from alcohol. [10]

Switzerland 10g-12g

Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Addiction (SIPA) [11]:

"The principal recommendations of the ISPA to the pregnant women are as follows:

  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • If you do decide to drink, do not drink more than one glass per day, and do not drink every day.
  • Avoid excessive consumption at all costs (even occasionally)."
United Kingdom 8g

The U.K. Department of Health (2007) advises that "pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol. If they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, they should not drink more than 1 to 2 units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk." [12]

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in its 2006 guide, Alcohol and Pregnancy: Information for You [13], states, "The safest approach in pregnancy is to choose not to drink at all. Small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy (not more than 1 to 2 units, not more than once or twice a week) have not been shown to be harmful."

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in its clinical guideline Antenatal Care: Routine Care for the Healthy Pregnant Woman (2008), "“Pregnant women and women planning a pregnancy should be advised to avoid drinking alcohol in the first 3 months of pregnancy if possible because it may be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage. If women choose to drink alcohol during pregnancy they should be advised to drink no more than 1 to 2 U.K. units once or twice a week." [14]

United States 14g

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2005 [15], published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Agriculture (USDA), states:

"Alcoholic beverages should not be consumed by some individuals, including those who cannot restrict their alcohol intake, women of childbearing age who may become pregnant, pregnant and lactating women, children and adolescents, individuals taking medications that can interact with alcohol, and those with specific medical conditions."

[1] See Guideline 11 in Australian Alcohol Guidelines (p. 16), available: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/publications/synopses/_files/ds9.pdf under review by the NHMRC in collaboration with the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Progress on the revised guidelines can be traced at: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/consult/index.htm .

[2] Available: http://www.camh.net/About_Addiction_Mental_Health/Drug_and_Addiction_Information/low_risk_drinking_guidelines.html.

[3] See pp. 9-11, available: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-gs/pdf/hpguide-eng.pdf.

[4] See "Healthy Habits before, during and after Pregnancy" from The Danish National Board of Health and The Danish Committee for Health Education 2010 (pg 12). www.sst.dk/publ/Publ2010/CFF/English/SundeVaner_en.pdf

[5] See the "Nutrition" page of the French Ministry of Health, Youth & Sports: http://www.sante.gouv.fr/htm/pointsur/nutrition/index.htm. See in particular the 2002 booklet, «La santé vient en mangeant : le guide alimentaire pour tous».

[6] Available: http://www.healthpromotion.ie/uploaded_docs/Little_Book_of_Women_and_Alcohol.pdf.

[7] Full text of Health Files on alcohol and pregnancy is available online: http://www.healthpromotion.ie/topics/alcohol/alcofacts/health_files/.

[8] The information from NIGZ about drinking during pregnancy and breastfeeding is available online, in Dutch, at: http://www.alcoholinfo.nl/index.cfm?act=esite.tonen&a=2&b=172.

[9] Full text of the Paper is available online: http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/pagesmh/4676/$File/food-and-nutrition-guidelines-background-paper-may06.pdf. The background on the issue of alcohol and pregnancy is provided on pp. 74–77(section 4.1.2), with a summary of practical advice on p. 77. 

[10] See the Ministry’s site devoted to alcohol and pregnancy, available: http://www.msc.es/ciudadanos/proteccionSalud/mujeres/embarazo/embaAlcohol.htm.

[11] Information is provided in French and German via the ISPA site on alcohol and pregnancy, When the Mum Drinks, So Does the Child: http://www.sfa-ispa.ch/index.php?IDtheme=111&IDarticle=1171&IDcat8visible=1&langue=F (two informational booklets, published in 2005, are available for downloading).

[12] Available: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/News/DH_074968.  

[13] Available: http://www.rcog.org.uk/resources/public/pdf/alcohol_pregnancy_1206.pdf.

[14] Full text is available online: http://www.nice.org.uk/CG62.

[15] Full text of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 is available online: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/pdf/DGA2005.pdf. Key recommendations on alcohol are provided on p. 44.