No level of safe alcohol use in pregnancy—but is the message being heard?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

‘Despite national guidelines recommending that the safest option for pregnant and breastfeeding women is not to drink, almost half of pregnant women in Australia consume some alcohol during their pregnancy—one of the highest rates in the OECD,’ Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research Director, Dr Rebecca Haddock said today.

AHHA’s Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research has released an Issues Brief, Reducing harms related to alcohol use in pregnancy—policy and practice recommendations authored by Dr Amy Finlay-Jones, a postdoctoral research fellow at the FASD Research Australia Centre of Research Excellence, Telethon Kids Institute.

Dr Finlay-Jones developed the paper as part of a Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research Summer Scholarship, supported by HESTA.

‘The widespread use of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern in Australia, increasing the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), Dr Finlay-Jones said.

‘There are lifelong impacts for people living with FASD, including increased risk of mental illness, disengagement from education and work, and contact with the justice system.

‘Reducing alcohol use in pregnancy should be a public health priority, and requires comprehensive and coordinated prevention strategies to improve public awareness that there is no established safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy.

‘In addition to better targeted and more consistent messaging about alcohol use, routine alcohol screening should be undertaken for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

‘This requires an investment in capacity building to enable clinicians to effectively undertake screening, advise and provide appropriate information and support.

‘Data about alcohol use in pregnancy must also be included in the National Perinatal Data Collection, to support the development of evidence-based policy and prevention approaches,’ said Dr Finlay-Jones.

‘Targeted and sustained commitment to preventing alcohol use in pregnancy is needed to address this serious public health issue,’ said Dr Haddock.

‘That almost half of pregnant women are drinking some alcohol, and that this is one of the highest rates amongst OECD countries, suggests that the message that there is no level of safe alcohol use in pregnancy is simply not being heard.’

Reducing harms related to alcohol use in pregnancy – policy and practice recommendations is available here.

More information about the AHHA is available at

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, and community and primary healthcare services.

Media enquiries:  Dr Rebecca Haddock

Director, Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research