The HSE has said no amount of alcohol at any stage is safe for a baby during pregnancy.

Ireland is estimated to have the third highest rate of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Alcohol passes from the mother's blood into the baby's blood via the placenta and can damage a baby's developing brain and body.

It said prenatal alcohol exposure of the foetus is the biggest known cause of intellectual disability.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may cause a baby to develop hyperactivity and poor attention, behavioural problems and being smaller than expected.

The HSE's new awareness campaign will emphasise that if a woman refuses to drink, she should not be questioned about if she is pregnant.

It also aims to offer partners, family and friends, advice on how they can make it easier for a woman to have an alcohol free pregnancy.

Dr Mary T O'Mahony, Specialist in Public Health Medicine with the HSE, said: "We do know that heavy or frequent drinking is more dangerous.

"The more you drink, the greater the risk to your baby. But the only way to have zero risk, is to drink zero alcohol."

Research by the HSE found that one in two people in Ireland claim they are aware of illnesses and conditions that affect babies after birth as a result of exposure to alcohol during pregnancy.

However, the HSE said that only just over one in ten people state they have a good understanding of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, its symptoms and its cause.