Alcohol and safety while looking after children
Drinking alcohol impairs your judgement and reactions. Make sure you stay safe while caring for children
We’re exploring ways to improve support for people struggling with their alcohol consumption through their loved ones, and we need your help.
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Most parents and carers who drink alcohol don’t drink in a way that puts their children at an increased risk of harm.1 But parental alcohol misuse does make it more difficult to provide safe and loving care for children, and is linked in some cases to neglect or abuse.2
Alcohol can make you less aware of what your child needs, and impair your judgement and reaction time – both of which are vitally important when taking care of a baby or young child. If there is an occasion that you think you might have a lot to drink – for example a family party – make sure there is a sober adult present who can look after any children.
Never co-sleep - having your baby in bed or on a sofa with you - after drinking any alcohol, because of the risk of the baby accidentally being suffocated.
The best way to keep the risk from alcohol low for you and your children is to follow the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines. That means, if you choose to drink, it’s safest for both men and women to have no more than 14 units a week, spread over three or more days with several drink-free days, and no bingeing.
If you want to cut down on your alcohol consumption, the MyDrinkaware app can help. We’ve got tips on cutting down together with your partner too, so you can make the most of the special time together with your new baby.
Being a parent can be incredibly tiring. But did you know that drinking alcohol can disrupt your sleep,3 just when you need it most?
Parents and carers who misuse alcohol can find it more difficult to provide safe and loving care for their children. This can lead to a range of consequences for children including neglect, and emotional and physical abuse. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) also highlights the psychological effect on children and the impact parental alcohol misuse can have on a child’s brain development.4
A note about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – sometimes known as "cot death" – is the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby. And whilst most cot deaths remain unexplained tragedies with no link to alcohol, some research has shown a link with parental smoking and alcohol consumption in some cases.5,6
What children see at home shapes how they will think about alcohol as an adult. So, just as children learn to walk and talk like their parents, they can ‘learn’ how to drink like them too.
Research shows that from a young age children learn about acceptable behaviour by observing and copying their parents. So, when it comes to drinking, it really is a case of leading by example.
The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.
 Cleaver, H., & Unell, I. (2011). Children's needs-parenting capacity: child abuse, parental mental illness, learning disability, substance misuse, and domestic violence. The Stationery Office. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/182095/DFE-00108-2011-Childrens_Needs_Parenting_Capacity.pdf
 Phillips, D. P., Brewer, K. M., & Wadensweiler, P. (2011). Alcohol as a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Addiction (Abingdon, England), 106(3), 516–525. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03199.x
 Elliott, A. J., Kinney, H. C., Haynes, R. L., Dempers, J. D., Wright, C., Fifer, W. P., Angal, J., Boyd, T. K., Burd, L., Burger, E., Folkerth, R. D., Groenewald, C., Hankins, G., Hereld, D., Hoffman, H. J., Holm, I. A., Myers, M. M., Nelsen, L. L., Odendaal, H. J., Petersen, J., … Dukes, K. A. (2020). Concurrent prenatal drinking and smoking increases risk for SIDS: Safe Passage Study report. EClinicalMedicine, 19, 100247. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2019.100247
Last Reviewed: 29th September 2022
Next Review due: 29th September 2025